Venezuela’s Crimes Against Humanity

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has condemned the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for crimes against humanity. In the report released by the UNHRC this week, Venezuela was criticized for serious human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, unlawful detentions, and acts of torture.

The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission was established by the UNHRC to investigate these human rights violations by the Venezuelan Government. To corroborate their findings, the UNHRC conducted interviews and incorporated open-source information and public submissions

Extrajudicial killings by the State were estimated to be the highest in Latin America. FAES, the country’s national police, have performed horrific killings and unjust violence against citizens. The UNHRC reports that many of those in command have not been held accountable for their role in such atrocities. Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the Mission has said, “the killings appear part of a policy to eliminate unwanted members of society under the cover of combating crime.”

SEBIN, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, is reported to have unlawfully detained and tortured civilians to further president Maduro’s political agenda. Human rights activists, political opponents, and civilians appearing to go against the government’s ideologies were common targets. The UNHCR identified asphyxiation, electric shocks, sexual abuse, and forced nudity at extreme temperatures as torture techniques inflicted by SEBIN. Many people have also accused SEBIN of ‘planting items’ to justify arrests and killings. The report states that “according to a former SEBIN officer interviewed by the Mission, orders determining targets for investigation came from President Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, via the SEBIN Director-General.”

“Far from being isolated acts, these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to state policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials,” said Marta Valiñas. In response to the report, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister tweeted, “this illustrates the perverse practice of playing politics with human rights” and that “it’s a report ridden with falsehoods, written from afar, with no methodological rigor whatsoever.”

State institutions are meant to be accountable to the public; in Venezuela, they are accountable instead, to the president. The absence of the rule of law and the legal separation of powers meant there are limited barriers to prevent the aforementioned atrocities. Human Rights Watch reports that “a series of measures by the Maduro and Chávez governments stacked the courts with judges who make no pretense of independence.”

People are angry. Throughout 2019, thousands of civilians took to the streets to protest the unjust socioeconomic crisis plaguing their country. Organized protests rallied to remove Maduro from the presidency following his re-election. Food insecurity caused by extreme hyperinflation exacerbated Venezuelan’s desire for change. In response, Venezuelan authorities retaliated with brute force. Some protesters were shot, while others were detained and tortured.

Separating the legislative branch from the executive and judiciary is paramount to upholding the rule of law. A top-down approach will be necessary to flush out corruption in Venezuela’s highest-ranking officials. Public institutions such as the FAES or SEBIN will require internal restructuring or a complete overhaul to change unjust policies and organizational culture that have harmed the public.