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Venezuela continues crackdown on dissenters, UN rights experts warn

Children walk past street graffiti in Caracas, Venezuela. (file)
© UNICEF/Velasquez
Children walk past street graffiti in Caracas, Venezuela. (file)

Venezuela continues crackdown on dissenters, UN rights experts warn

Human Rights

Attacks on civic and democratic space in Venezuela are increasing through policies aimed at silencing opposition and criticism of the Government, the head of a UN-appointed human rights body said on Monday. 

Marta Valiñas, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, presented its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which covers the period from January 2020 to August this year.

The report, which was published last week, focused on two areas: the various “repression mechanisms” used by the State, and the need to monitor a new security force whose members include officers who allegedly were involved in crimes against humanity.

‘Repressive tactics’

“What we are witnessing is the accumulated impact of these repressive tactics which have given rise to a predominant environment of fear, mistrust and self-censorship. As a consequence, the fundamental pillars of civic and democratic fora have been seriously eroded in Venezuela,” said Mr. Valiñas, speaking in Spanish.

She warned that repressive measures are likely to increase in the run-up to the presidential elections next year.

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During the reporting period, at least 58 persons were arbitrarily detained, according to the report.

They included trade union leaders, human rights defenders, members of non-governmental organizations, journalists, opposition party members, and others who voiced criticism of the Government of President Nicholas Maduro.

Arbitrary killings and torture

The Mission investigated nine deaths to determine if they were linked to detention, finding reasonable grounds to believe that five were arbitrary killings that could be attributed to the State authorities.

Furthermore, at least 14 individuals were forcibly disappeared for periods ranging from several hours up to 10 days.  The Mission documented 28 cases of torture or degrading treatment in official or clandestine places of detention, with sexual and gender-based violence being most prevalent.

Ms. Valiñas said these incidents represent a decrease over previous reporting periods, reflecting a shift in the political and human rights crisis in Venezuela.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the end of opposition protests, and subsequent mass arrests, torture and large-scale reprisals.  

Freedoms under attack

“Our conclusion is that in Venezuela, serious human rights violations continue, and that these violations are not isolated events. Rather, they reflect a policy of repressing dissent,” she said.

The Mission also investigated attempts against the freedoms of expression, assembly and peaceful association, and the right to participate in public life.  

“Numerous cases” of selective repression were documented, including against trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders, and their relatives. Key civil society institutions, political parties and the media have also been targeted.

New strategic force

The report also expressed concern over a new police body, the Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET), created in July 2022.

The Mission concluded that the DAET is a continuation of the disbanded Special Action Forces (FAES), which it had identified as one of the structures most involved in extrajudicial executions, among other gross human rights violations, in the context of fighting crime.  

Ms. Valiñas said 10 of the 15 top positions are held by former FAES leaders, “and these were already people who were named in former reports of our Mission because we believe that they have been involved in international crimes.”

She cited allegations around the new force’s involvement in operations last year that were linked to multiple assassinations and over 300 detentions.

“These actions were very similar to the strategies used by the Special Forces when they existed, including extrajudicial killings,” she said, calling for further investigation.