Independent experts for the U.N.’s top human rights body accused the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday of crimes against humanity, highlighting grisly cases of torture and killings allegedly carried out by security forces who used techniques like electric shocks, genital mutilation and asphyxiation.
By AP The Associated Press – Jamey Keaten
In a scathing, in-depth report commissioned by the Human Rights Council, the experts said the people responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other crimes must be held to account to provide justice for untold thousands of victims and to ensure such crimes don’t happen again.
The findings of the report are likely to ratchet up pressure on Maduro’s government, which has overseen a country in tatters with runaway inflation, a violent crackdown and an exodus of millions of Venezuelans who have fled to neighboring countries to escape the turmoil since he took power in 2013.
The experts delved into nearly 3,000 cases, looked at more than 5,000 killings and concluded that Maduro and his defense and interior ministers were aware of the crimes committed by Venezuelan security forces and intelligence agencies.
They further alleged that high-level authorities had both power and oversight over the forces and agencies, making the top officials responsible. Venezuelan authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Critics have already accused Maduro’s government of crimes against humanity. But the 411-page report represents one of the most extensive looks at recent rights abuses in Venezuela, drawing upon interviews with victims, relatives, witnesses, police, officials and judges, plus videos, satellite imagery and social media content. The authors said they did not receive responses from the government.
The experts – Marta Valinas of Portugal, Francisco Cox Vial of Chile, and Paul Seils of Britain – worked under a fact-finding mission that the 47-nation Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s top human rights body, set up in September to investigate alleged acts of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and other human rights violations in Venezuela since 2014.
“These acts were committed pursuant to two state policies, one to quash opposition to the government and another to combat crime, including by eliminating individuals perceived as criminals,” Valinas told reporters. “We also consider that the documented crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.”
“For these reasons, the mission has reasonable grounds to believe that they amount to crimes against humanity,” she said, noting the alleged arbitrary killings and systematic use of torture, in particular.
Under Article 7 of the U.N. treaty that established the International Criminal Court, a crime against humanity is defined as an act committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”
The experts said the violations in Venezuela took place amid a breakdown of democratic institutions, rule of law and judicial independence in the country, often during crackdowns on protesters. They said the “vast majority” of unlawful killings by security forces have not resulted in prosecutions and “at no stage have officials with command responsibility been brought to justice.”
The report found that members of the Special Action Forces, a feared division of the national police service, and another unit were responsible for over half of the thousands of wrongful deaths that the experts examined. Superiors had authority to grant officers a “green light to kill,” the report’s authors wrote, citing a training video that showed officers being encouraged to “kill criminals without compassion.”
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who traveled to Venezuela last year and met with Maduro, has urged him to dissolve the special forces and to hold the division’s leaders accountable. Her requests have gone ignored.