Sunday 22 July 2018

Basic human rights ‘being chiselled away’ in Venezuela

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Venezuelan officers accused over 500 questionable killings appear to be evading charges.

Nicaragua (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Nicaragua (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

By Associated Press Reporters

Government security forces in Venezuela carry out unjustified killings without any apparent consequences as the rule of law in the country quickly vanishes, a United Nations report has said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Venezuelan officers accused over 500 questionable killings appear to be evading any charges.

That is a sign that checks and balances have been chiselled away, leaving state authorities unaccountable, said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the high commissioner.

The report highlights the case early this year in which rebel police officer Oscar Perez and six in his group were shot dead as they tried to surrender. UN officials said they believe the group was executed on orders from senior government officials in violation of their basic rights.

“The rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela,” Mr Zeid said in the report. “The impunity must end.”

Venezuela is in the grips of a deepening political and economic crisis marked by food and medicine shortages and soaring inflation that has driven thousands to flee the country in search of a better life.

The government has drawn international condemnation since last year when officials loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro formed a constitutional assembly, robbing power from the democratically elected congress, which is controlled by the opposition.

The UN report looks at cases of excessive government force seen beyond violent street protests and also cites examples of officials threatening or detaining health care workers for shedding light on the lack of medicine and poor conditions.

The report says that between 2015 and 2017, 357 officers were placed under investigation stemming from 505 killings during supposed neighbourhood raids.

But Venezuela’s attorney general, who was critical of Mr Maduro, was replaced last August, and no more information about the prosecutions has become public, the report said.

It added that evidence appears to have vanished from case files.

“The state appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations,” Mr Zeid said, suggesting the International Criminal Court play a deeper role.

Venezuelan officials, who often condemn outside meddling in their affairs, did not allow UN officials into the country to compile the report, so investigators gathered information remotely and included interviews with victims, witnesses, lawyers and doctors.

The report sheds light on the death of Mr Perez, who was killed in January when government forces hunted his group to a mountain hideout outside Caracas.

He had been Venezuela’s most-wanted fugitive after attacking government buildings in a stolen police helicopter.

The report says 400 officers armed with assault rifles and an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launcher surrounded Mr Perez, who was seen on video calling to surrender.

Police later recovered from the house four rifles, a pistol and two hand grenades, the report says.

UN officials say their investigation leads them to believe that officials who report directly to Mr Maduro executed the seven rebels in violation of their human rights and then destroyed evidence.

Press Association

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