UN human rights chief cites continued abuses in Venezuela
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The United Nations’ chief human rights official said Monday that millions of Venezuelans continue to suffer rights violations, including dozens of possible extrajudicial killings carried out by a special police force.
Non-governmental organizations report that the Special Action police force carried out 57 suspected extrajudicial killings in July alone within Caracas, Michelle Bachelet said in an oral presentation on Venezuela to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bachelet’s latest presentation followed a scathing written report issued in early July that drew a government backlash. It found a “pattern of torture” under the government of President Nicolás Maduro and citing violations like arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
Bachelet’s latest presentation, which also received pushback from powerful figures in Maduro’s government, noted some areas of progress, while pointing to more cases of human rights violations and declining conditions as more than 4 million Venezuelan have fled a country beset by hyperinflation that leaves monthly minimum wages equal to $2.
While Bachelet said she had called for officials to dismantle the feared Special Action police force, the unit has actually received ongoing support from the highest levels of the government, she said.
Bachelet raised concern that groups that collaborated with her in the earlier report have since come under criticism and threats by senior officials.
“Reprisals for having cooperated with the United Nations are unacceptable,” she said. “I urge the authorities to take preventative measures.”
Bachelet said she worried about a proposed law criminalizing the activities of human rights organizations that receive money from abroad, which could further erode democracy in Venezuela, a once wealthy oil nation.
Highlighting advances, Bachelet said a member of her team recently was allowed to visit the Ramo Verde Military Center — a prison commonly used to hold what opposition leaders consider political prisoners — with an agreement for visits to come. The government also has released 83 people whose arrests human rights observers considered arbitrary, she said, adding that officials have agreed to consider another 27 cases, expecting action soon.
The only way to overcome Venezuela’s human rights crisis is for Maduro’s government and the opposition led by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó to return to negotiations overseen by Norway, Bachelet said, and renewed her offer to support all such efforts.
Socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, considered Venezuela’s second most powerful figure after Maduro, said Bachelet is fixated on efforts by Venezuela’s government to carry on the socialist revolution launched by the late President Hugo Chavez.
Cabello said nobody paid attention to grave violations under previous right-wing administrations in Venezuela or other governments elsewhere, such as Chile, where Bachelet previously served as president.
“We’re not going to lose any sleep over whatever Ms. Bachelet says,” Cabello said. “She’s doesn’t fool us.”