UN Human Rights Report Suggests Venezuelan Government Committing Thousands of Extrajudicial Killings

On July 4, 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report (400kb PDF) that point to “unusually high” levels of extrajudicial killing by Venezuelan security forces as well as use of torture by security forces.

In most cases, women and men were subjected to one or more forms of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, beatings, sexual violence, water and food deprivation, stress positions and exposure to extreme temperatures. Security forces and intelligence services, particularly SEBIN and DGCIM, routinely resort to such practices to extract information and confessions, intimidate, and punish the detainees. The authorities have failed to conduct prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including SGBV, to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice and to provide reparation to the victims. In particular, judicial authorities have often reversed the burden of proof refusing to open investigations if the victims did not identify perpetrators. According to the Attorney-General’s Office, 72 complaints of alleged torture and other ill-treatment concerning 174 persons detained in the context of demonstrations between 2017 and 2019 have been filed. No information was provided on the status of investigation

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OHCHR interviewed the relatives of 20 young men killed by FAES from June 2018 to April 2019. All described a similar modus operandi. FAES would arrive in black pickup trucks without licence plates and block access points in the area. They were dressed in black, without any personal identification, with balaclavas covering their faces. They would also carry long weapons. Families of the victims described FAES breaking into their houses, taking their belongings, and exercising gender-based violence against women and girls, including forced nudity. They would separate young men from other family members before shooting them. According to their relatives, almost all of the victims had one or more shots in the chest.

In every case, witnesses reported how FAES manipulated the crime scene and evidence. They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had “resisted authority”. In many cases, FAES brought the victims to hospital even though they were already dead, apparently with the intention of manipulating the bodies and modifying the crime scene. In some cases, the authorities declared that the victims were criminals before the conclusion of a formal investigation.

The authorities classify the killings resulting from security operations as “resistance to authority”. The number of these deaths is unusually high. In 2018, the Government registered 5,287 such killings,39 while the NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia” (OVV) reported at least 7,523 killings under this category. Between 1 January and 19 May 2019, the Government reported 1,569 killings for “resistance to authority”. The OVV reported at least 2,124 of such killings between January and May 2019. Information analysed by OHCHR suggests many of these killings may constitute extrajudicial executions.

In a press release accompany the report, the UNHCHR said the Venezuelan government was engaged in a systematic effort to undermine human rights.

The report, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, states that over the last decade – and especially since 2016 – the Government and its institutions have implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the Government.” A series of laws, policies and practices has restricted the democratic space, dismantled institutional checks and balances, and allowed patterns of grave violations. The report also highlights the impact of the deepening economic crisis that has left people without the means to fulfil their fundamental rights to food and health, among others.

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The report details how State institutions have been steadily militarized over the past decade. During the reporting period, civil and military forces have allegedly been responsible for arbitrary detentions; ill-treatment and torture of people critical of the Government and their relatives; sexual and gender-based violence in detention and during visits; and excessive use of force during demonstrations.

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