UN Report Reveals Extreme Human Rights Violations in Venezuela

Venezuelans wait outside the Federal Police office in the Brazilian border city of Pacaraima. The office is responsible for receiving Venezuelans seeking asylum or special permits to stay in Brazil. Photo: UNHCR / Reynesson Damasceno
Venezuelans wait outside the Federal Police office in the Brazilian border city of Pacaraima. The office is responsible for receiving Venezuelans seeking asylum or special permits to stay in Brazil. Photo: UNHCR / Reynesson Damasceno

A UN Human Rights report published on Friday spotlights the failure of Venezuelan authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations that include killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment, and torture.

The report also lays bare the grave impact of the economic and social crisis in the country on the rights to food and health. The report provides an update on several key human rights violations documented in the August 2017 UN Human Rights Office report on Venezuela.

While the previous report focused on the excessive use of force and alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of demonstrations, this new report also documents credible, shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings in the course of purported crime-fighting operations carried out since 2015, known as the Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLPs).

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From July 2015 to March 2017, the then-Attorney-General’s Office had recorded the killing of 505 people by security forces during such operations. Witness accounts suggest a pattern: raids in poor neighbourhoods conducted to arrest “criminals” without a judicial warrant; the killing of young men who fit the profile, in some cases in their homes; and finally security forces tampering with the scene so that the killings would appear to have occurred in an exchange of fire.

“Victims’ accounts raise questions as to whether OLPs were really meant to dismember criminal groups,” the report states. “A number of elements seem to indicate they were an instrument for the Government to showcase alleged results in crime reduction.”

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Under the previous Attorney-General, who was replaced in August 2017, 357 security officers were reportedly under investigation in relation to the killings. But since then, there has been no information publicly available about the cases, with a key obstacle being that the Bureau for Scientific, Criminal, and Forensic Investigations (CICPC) that is in charge of the investigations, is also allegedly responsible for most of the killings.

The OLPs were in January 2017 replaced with another operation, called the Operations for the Humanitarian Liberation of the People, which is much less transparent and difficult to track than the OLPs, but civil society accounts suggest that the killings have continued.

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The report also documents the killing of 39 detainees in the state of Amazonas in 2017 and of seven members of an alleged armed group in Caracas in 2018, where security forces allegedly used excessive force.

Civil society organizations working on human rights issues also continue to face severe legal restrictions, smear campaigns, threats and harassment, as well as accusations of terrorism, treason and other crimes.

Arbitrary and unlawful detentions, while at a lower rate than the numbers during the mass protests last year, continued in a more targeted fashion. In one case, a group of young friends exchanging messages on social media about joining a protest were arrested and deprived of any contact with their families or lawyers for more than four months. They have recently been conditionally released.

The UN Human Rights Office understands that at least 280 individuals who had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for their political opinions, for exercising their human rights, or because they were perceived as a threat to the Government, remain in detention in dreadful conditions.

According to civil society estimates, more than 7,000 others were conditionally released, but live in fear of re-arrest or await the start of trial proceedings against them. Systematic violations of due process rights continued to occur.

The report also documents some 90 cases of detainees subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment since 2014, which in many cases could constitute torture. It details the degrading ill-treatment which some family members are subjected to when they visit detainees.

The report was compiled following some 150 interviews and meetings with Venezuelans, including with at least 78 victims or witnesses, as well as the review of information from a wide range of sources. The findings of the report indicate the continued existence of a policy to repress dissent.

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Rakesh Raman