UN report: 'crimes against humanity' in Venezuela

A UN report published Sept. 16 accused Venezuelan state authorities, including the president, of being complicit in human rights violations and abuses "amounting to crimes against humanity." An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela found cases of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture committed by the government or its agents. The Mission investigated 223 cases and reviewed an additional 2,891 cases to compile a pattern of violations. High-level authorities, including the ministers of the Interior and Defense, as well as President Nicolás Maduro himself, were not only aware of the violations but gave the orders and provided the resources to carry them out. "Far from being isolated acts," said Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the Mission, "these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to State policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials."

The violations have been ongoing since 2014, the report said. Among the findings were accounts of intelligence and police services being given the green light to execute suspects in simulated "confrontations," where the authorities plant weapons on the victims to allow security forces to claim they had to kill in their own defense. There have been no prosecutions for the vast majority of these killings, which "appear part of a policy to eliminate unwanted members of society under the cover of combating crime," said Valiñas.

Political dissidents, human rights activists and others perceived to be opponents of the government were targeted for unlawful detentions that involved the use of torture to extract confessions or simply as a form of punishment. Officials within the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence (DGCIM) had full knowledge of the detentions and torture, and the report recommended that they be investigated and prosecuted. "Other jurisdictions in accordance to their national laws, as well as the International Criminal Court, should also consider legal actions against individuals responsible for violations and crimes the Mission identified," the report concluded.

From Jurist, Sept. 17. Used with permission.

Note: In 2018, an Amnesty International report stated that Venezuela is experiencing the "worst human rights crisis" in its history.

Bolivarian Revolution devours own children

A harrowing New York Times report notes extrajudicial executions of longtime supporters of Venezuela's "revolution" by Maduro's undercover operatives after they started raising criticisms. Popular radio host José Carmelo Bislick accused local officials of corruption on his program, "The People's Combat." Weeks later, he was taken by masked gunmen and executed. His body was found wearing his favorite Che Guevara t-shirt.

Growing persecution of activists in Venezuela

Three local and foreign human rights organizations reported Feb. 2 that attacks on rights defenders and civil society organizations in Venezuela have increased by 157% since 2019.

The Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Caracas, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and the non-governmental organization COFAVIC jointly published the report, which finds that the human rights crisis in Venezuela has deepened significantly against the backdrop of COVID-19.

The report especially highlights the recent arbitrary arrest and prosecution of five members of Azul Positivo (Blue Positive), an organization working to support disease prevention.

In the last month, military agents have "forcibly entered the offices of civil society organizations; public threats have been made against defenders who have been engaging with human rights mechanisms, NGO bank accounts have been frozen and arrest warrants [have] been issued for aid workers," according to a press release from Human Rights Watch. Eleven civil rights organizations signed the statement issued by Human Rights Watch and called on Venezuelan authorities to stop the harassment and threats. (Jurist)

UN rights expert: drop sanctions against Venezuela

The UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, on Feb. 12 urged the US, the EU and other states to lift unilateral sanctions imposed against Venezuela, claiming that they have only "exacerbated pre-existing calamities."

Douhan, who had been traveling around Venezuela for two weeks talking to "the widest range of people to listen to their experience and insights," said in her preliminary report that sanctions have crippled Venezuela, leading to an "economic, humanitarian and development crisis." She said:

Lack of necessary machinery, spare parts, electricity, water, fuel, gas, food and medicine, growing insufficiency of qualified workers many of whom have left the country for better economic opportunities, in particular medical personnel, engineers, teachers, professors, judges and policemen, has enormous impact over all categories of human rights, including the rights to life, to food, to health and to development.

According to Douhan, the devastating effects of the sanctions have been "multiplied by extra-territoriality and over-compliance," and are felt by all facets of society, both public and private. However, they are felt most keenly by those most vulnerable: women, children, medical workers, people with disabilities or life-threatening or chronic diseases, the homeless and indigenous populations. (Jurist)

UN charges extrajudicial killings by Venezuelan police

UN human rights experts condemned "large-scale" human rights violations in Venezuela that "amount to crimes against humanity." The UN Human Rights Council initiated a fact-finding mission in Venezuela in September 2019. Marta Valiñas, chair of the mission, presented an update to the Human Rights Council on March 11. Valiñas reported that Venezuela's contested December 2020 National Assembly elections led to a "political climate of exclusion of dissenting voice," citing the government's investigation of opposition leaders and prosecution of political protestors. The fact-finding mission also voiced concerns about the treatment of prisoners, and reported allegations of torture as well as "sexual and gender-based violence against detainees" held at intelligence sites.

She also charged that the prelude to the elections saw a "grave pattern of extrajudicial executions committed by the Venezuelan security forces in the context of security operations." She said the mission has identified over 200 killings committed by police forces last year, and is continuing to investigate these cases. She especially cited the likely involvement of the the Special Actions Force).

According to Valiñas, public officials have impeded pushes for accountability for these killings, "failing to release death certificates, charging for autopsies and delivering bodies with the casket closed, with the instruction that it not be opened." (Jurist)

US blocks Venezuela from proceeding with WTO sanctions dispute

The US blocked Venezuela on March 26 from pursuing its dispute over US sanctions at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Office of the US Trade Representative spokesperson Adam Hodge said: "The United States will reject any effort by Maduro to misuse the WTO to attack U.S. sanctions aimed at restoring human rights and democracy to Venezuela. The United States exercised its rights as a WTO Member to object to this illegitimate panel request because representatives of the Maduro regime do not speak on behalf of the Venezuelan people." (Jurist)

The US-Venezuela thaw

President Nicolás Maduro is sending more positive signals towards the Biden administration in the hope that punitive US economic sanctions may be eased. After weeks of secret talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, two Maduro opponents were named onto a new five-member elections board. The United States had long accused Maduro of using the board to manipulate election results. Just a few days earlier, the seeming charm offensive towards the United States saw the release into house arrest of six jailed executives from Citgo, an American refinery owned by Venezuela’s state oil company. Shortly before that, Maduro—who had long denied the deepening humanitarian crisis in his country and resisted outside assistance – stood side-by-side with World Food Programme chief David Beasley to announce an agreement to allow emergency food supplies to 1.5 million Venezuelan children by the 2022-2023 school year. (The New Humanitarian)