CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday the South American nation is withdrawing from a regional human rights court that Latin America's leftist leaders have increasingly criticized as a pawn of Washington.
Allies of Venezuela including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have accused the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of improperly weighing in on disputes still being heard in domestic courts and working to undermine leftist governments.
"Venezuela is withdrawing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, out of dignity, and we accuse them before the world of being unfit to call themselves a human rights group," Chavez said during a military ceremony.
The move came on the heels of a ruling by the court saying Venezuela had violated the rights of a man convicted of bombing diplomatic offices of Spain and Colombia in Caracas, arguing jail conditions were deplorable.
The man in question, Raul Diaz, was sentenced to nine years in prison but fled to the United States after winning a conditional release, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Chavez tasked a council of state made up of allies to study whether or not Venezuela should remain in the group.
The Costa Rica-based tribunal, part of the Washington-based Organization of American States, or OAS, has heard a series of cases accusing the Chavez government of authoritarianism and rights abuses during his 13-year rule.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, say the OAS body provides crucial protections for citizens in countries with weak judiciaries or a history of authoritarian leaders.
Opposition politicians and activists say Chavez has routinely stamped on rights and harassed opponents during an increasingly autocratic rule.
Chavez, who is leading in polls ahead of a re-election bid on October 7, routinely scoffs at those accusations.
The court's sister organization, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has also been criticized for meddling in the affairs of its member nations. Brazil last year upbraided the group for urging a halt to the construction of a hydroelectric dam along a tributary to the Amazon River.
The OAS in June postponed the thorny issue of reforming the human rights commission for six months.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Stacey Joyce)