Nicolas Maduro. Picture: REUTERS
Nicolas Maduro. Picture: REUTERS

Geneva — The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has committed systematic human rights violations including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, UN investigators said on Wednesday.

Reasonable grounds exist to believe that, to silence opposition, Maduro and his interior and defence ministers ordered or contributed to the crimes documented in the report, they said.

Specifically they have information indicating that Maduro ordered the director of the national intelligence service Sebin to detain opponents “without judicial order”, Francisco Cox of the UN fact-finding mission told a news briefing.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the report, which was based on more than 270 interviews with victims, witnesses, former officials and lawyers, and confidential documents.

They included the former head of the National Intelligence Service, Christopher Figuera, whose testimony was corroborated, the report said.

Most unlawful executions by security forces and state agents have not been prosecuted in Venezuela, where the rule of law and democratic institutions have broken down, the panel said.

Database sharing

The investigators said other national jurisdictions and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened a preliminary examination into Venezuela in 2018, should consider prosecutions.

It would share its database containing the names of officers identified by victims that included 20 officers from Sebin and 25 from the military intelligence agency DGCIM.

“The mission found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which — including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture — amount to crimes against humanity,” panel chair Marta Valinas said.

The panel found that officers in the military, police and intelligence had committed extrajudicial killings and called on the government to disband the special actions forces of the police known as Faes.

The panel said it has reasonable grounds to believe the intelligence service falsified or planted evidence on victims, and that its agents tortured detainees. They included opposition legislator Fernando Alban, whom the government said committed suicide in 2018 but whose party said was murdered.

Navy captain Rafael Acosta was believed to have died of torture in the custody of the DGCIM in 2019, the UN experts said.

Prison visits

The panel, set up by the Human Rights Council to investigate violations since 2014, was not granted access to Venezuela. More than 5-million people — one-sixth of the population — have fled the country’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis.

Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the forum on Tuesday the government is co-operating with the separate office of UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet, notably in facilitating prison visits.

Valero denounced the latest sanctions imposed by the Trump administration that were “causing suffering and death for the Venezuelan people”. The US, with dozens of other countries, recognises opposition politician Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader.

The panel found that the Venezuelan state apparatus responded with repressive tactics to opposition protests that grew especially after Maduro was re-elected in 2018 amid an outcry over the results.

“Security forces used lethal force against the victim when it was not strictly unavoidable to protect lives. Security forces also used less-lethal weapons in a lethal manner, which resulted in the death of the demonstrators,” it said.

Reuters

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