News Latin America

Friday 24 January 2020

UN condemns Maduro's use of torture and deadly force

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Photo: Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Photo: Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Hannah Strange and Miriana Zuniga

The United Nations has accused Venezuela's government of "widespread and systematic" use of excessive force in its bid to quell months of unrest, in­cluding deadly violence against protesters and the torture of detainees.

The allegation from the UN human rights agency comes as film, circulated online, appeared to show violent acts by security forces against protesters, including a purported execution.

The UN said its investigators had found evidence indicating at least 76 people had been killed by the security forces or government-linked armed groups, known as colectivos, since protests began in April.

It reported officers firing gas canisters and buckshot at close range and pulling protesters from their houses in violent raids without warrants, and quoted "reliable estimates" of more than 5,000 people detained by July 31, more than 1,000 of whom remain in custody.

In several cases of detainees examined by the team, there were credible reports of "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" often amounting to torture, including the use of electric shocks, beatings, suffocation with gas, and threats to kill or rape the individuals or their relatives.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN human rights commissioner, spoke of a "clear pattern" of excessive force, abuses of detainees and attacks on democratic institutions.

"The responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of government," he said.

The report also blamed protesters for eight killings of security officers.

Mr Al Hussein urged both sides to renounce violence in favour of dialogue.

Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, has dismissed allegations of abuses as either isolated or the fabrications of enemies bent on sabotaging his government. But he has come down hard on what he calls "terrorist" violence on the part of opponents.

Yesterday, the government-stacked Supreme Court ordered the arrest of a mayor whose Caracas district has been convulsed by protests.

Ramon Muchacho was sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to remove barricades in Chacao, becoming the fourth mayor targeted by the court in recent weeks.

Mr Muchacho's whereabouts is unclear, but in a social media post he condemned the ruling, lamenting that "all of the weight of the revolutionary -injustice has fallen on my shoulders".

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