UN accuses Venezuela of crimes against humanity

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UN investigators say Venezuelan security forces and allied groups have committed systematic human rights violations including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity.

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

The investigators said they believed Mr Maduro told the director of the national intelligence service SEBIN who to target.

“The way SEBIN worked … was to do intelligence on people beforehand and these people that were targeted — and we have reasonable grounds to believe that the President Maduro did give orders to the director of SEBIN as to who to target,” Francisco Cox of the UN fact-finding mission told a news briefing.

“After that these people were surveilled, information was gathered, their communications were intercepted and finally they would be detained without judicial order, just because there was such an order by the President,” Mr Cox said.

Police crouch behind plastic shields as some in civilians clothing run away.
Security forces, some in civilian clothing, during clashes with anti-government protesters in Caracas last year.(AP: Ariana Cubillos)

Most unlawful executions by state agents have not been prosecuted in Venezuela, where the rule of law and democratic institutions have broken down, the fact-finding mission found.

“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 in a statement.

There was no immediate response by Maduro’s Government to the report, which was based on more than 270 interviews with victims, witnesses, former officials and lawyers, and confidential documents.

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of the nation at a rally.
The US and Australia recognise Juan Guaido as the leader of Venezuela.(AP: Fernando Llano)

The United States, along with dozens of other countries, recognises opposition politician Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader and has imposed

The panel found that officers in the military, police and intelligence had committed extrajudicial killings.

They included the former head of the National Intelligence Service, General Christopher Figuera, it said.

Intelligence service ‘planted evidence’

The panel said it had reasonable grounds to believe the intelligence service falsified or planted evidence on victims, and that its agents tortured detainees.

They included opposition lawmaker Fernando Alban, whom the Government said committed suicide in 2018, but his party said he was murdered.

Venezuelan migrants sleep on the ground at a border crossing into Peru.
A group of Venezuelan migrants sleep on the ground at a border crossing into Peru. One in six Venezuelans have fled the country.(AP: Martin Mejia)

Navy Captain Rafael Acosta was believed to have died of torture in the custody of the military intelligence agency last year, the UN experts said.

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.

The report 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 also used less-lethal weapons in a lethal manner, which resulted in the death of the demonstrators,” it said.

The UN fact-finding mission 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.

A masked man throws rocks during clashes with soldiers near Venezuela's border with Colombia.
Venezuela has been rocked by protests due to the political and humanitarian crisis.(AP: Rodrigo Abd)



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