UN Report: Venezuela Committed Human Rights Abuses Including Hundreds Of Extrajudicial Killings

The United Nations released a report on 22 June that documented severe human rights abuses in Venezuela between 2014 and 2017. According to the report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR),  government sanctioned “crime fighting” units extrajudicially killed over 500 Venezuelans in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. That number includes 24 children. OHCHR’s press release refers to the conduct as “shocking.”

The OHCHR report, titled “Human Rights Violations in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: a downward spiral with no end in sight,” was a follow-up to a previous report which condemned the severe use of force by security officers during a protest in 2017, which led to the deaths of 46 Venezuelans. Since that time, the attorney general has issued 54 arrest warrants, but trial proceedings have been slow or non-existent and plagued with mishandled case files and blocked investigations. This new OHCHR report finds that the brutality shown at the 2017 protest was part of a pattern of human rights abuses administered by security forces.

The new report was the product of 150 interviews with witnesses, victims, and related groups like civil society organizations (CSOs) or attorneys. From these interviews, the OHCHR discerned a trend of “raids in poor neighborhoods 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.”

The Venezuelan government denied the OHCHR access to records. According to the BBC, some of the information included in the report comes from ousted Venezuelan attorney general Luis Ortega, who has been in exile.

Ortega opened investigations into the conduct of 357 Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLP) security officers, but only one case has proceeded to trial since 2015. The office in charge of the closed-door investigations is the same office accused of carrying out the extrajudicial killings.

A security group called Operations for the Humanitarian Liberation of the People replaced the OLP in January 2017, but the OHCHR spoke to CSOs on the ground who believe that the killings and cover-ups have not stopped.
Extrajudicial killings are not the only abuse that the OHCHR recorded. The report included a CSO finding that “at least 570 persons, including 35 children, were arbitrarily detained from 1 August 2017 to 30 April 2018.”
Between January 2014 and April 2018, the government detained 12,320 political opponents. 7,000 have been released, but fear re-arrest.
The OHCHR also documented over 90 cases of cruel and inhumane treatment during detention, often in the form of torture. The perpetrators of these acts appear to show impunity, according to the report.
The report also described a “dramatic health crisis” that the government has desperately tried to cover up by silencing doctors and members of the media. Food and medicine shortages have torn through the country, leaving many in dire situations.
Despite the new report and past allegations, Venezuela remains a member of the UN Human Rights Council, which seeks to promote and defend human rights around the world. The U.S. pulled out of the UNHRC on 19 June 2018, two days before the UN released the OHCHR report on Venezuela. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called the council a “hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” according to NPR.
One of the report’s recommendations called for broader involvement from the International Criminal Court (ICC). A few months ago, the ICC opened a preliminary examination into excessive use of force during political demonstrations in Venezuela, which began in April 2017. The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed on Venezuelan soil from 1 July 2002 onward. The findings of the OHCHR report, which allege arbitrary detention and possible torture after August 2017, may factor into the ICC’s current preliminary investigation.