UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report highlights shocking violations in Venezuela

Association

On 4 July 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, published her report about the situation in Venezuela, following her visit as reported in the previous Monitor update. The report states that over the last decade, in particular since 2016, Venezuela’s government has implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the Government.” The High Commissioner has found that a series of laws, policies and practices have constrained civic and democratic space, allowing patterns of violation. The report details the militarisation of institutions and highlights the extensive reports of abuse, including: extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of those critical of government, sexual and gender-based violence of women detained, and the excessive use of force during demonstrations.

The report sets out a series of recommendations for Venezuela on the key human rights violations and calls on those with the power and influence – both within Venezuela and elsewhere – to work together and make compromises to resolve this crisis. Two members of the UN High Commissioner’s staff were temporarily deployed to Venezuela.

On 12 July 2019, Nicolas Maduro published a letter in response to the UN report, rejecting its content and claiming it to be an openly biased document.

Also on 12 July 2019, local NGO Foro Penal published their report of repression in Venezuela. From 1 January to 30 June this year, 2118 people have been detained. As of 30 June 2019, there were 630 political prisoners, of which 50 are women, 109 are military and one is a teenager.

Peaceful Assembly

The report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed in the Association section of this update, underscores the excessive use of force during demonstrations in Venezuela. The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), the report states, “have been responsible for the excessive use of force in demonstrations since at least 2014.” Also highlighted is the role of pro-government armed civilian groups, known as colectivos, in helping to repress protests and dissent. The UN Human Rights Office has documented 66 deaths during protests between January and May 2019, 52 attributable to Government security forces or colectivos. The UN High Commissioner’s report also states that many demonstrators were arbitrarily detained and ill-treated or tortured, and that security forces have conducted illegal house-raids targeting demonstrators.

On 15 July 2019, the Coalición por los Derechos Humanos y la Democracia (Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy) organised a protest in front of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) headquarters in Caracas, announcing the launch of a campaign called "Together against Torture". Lawyers and family members of political prisoners gathered to demonstrate against government brutality and torture of political prisoners. Leonor Acosta, a member of the coalition, stated that the Coalition has received “extensive reports” of torture taking place in the DGCIM and other incarceration centres. The lawyer and activist said:

“We have seen how, in the past few years, the government’s brutality has advanced to the point of torturing until death. We recently saw the case of Captain Acosta Arevalo, whose death was a consequence of severe torture in the headquarters of the General Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM).”

Also on 15 July 2019, the Venezuelan Social Conflict Observatory (OVCS) published the latest figures on social conflict in Venezuela during the first half of 2019. According to OVCS data, 10,447 protests were reported during this period, 97% more than registered in the same period in 2018. While protests have increased, so has the violence against demonstrators. In these six months, OVCS has registered 61 deaths during protests and 6 extrajudicial executions of demonstrators. The Observatory also highlighted the role of civilian groups in providing intelligence on people who take part in protests, including their location and identity, to security forces and colectivos.

Expression

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported on freedom of expression, noting the closure and ban of media outlets and the detention of independent journalists. The government has sought to curtail independent media, the report states, attempting to “impose a communication hegemony by enforcing its own version of events”. The Office of the High Commissioner has documented a number of cases of arbitrary detention of people for expressing opinions on social media. Citing data from NGO Espacio Público, the report counts 55 persons arbitrarily detained and criminally charged for social media publications from 2009 to 2018 – 24 of these cases occurred in 2018.

Internet restrictions are also discussed. The report states that in recent years, the government has blocked access to independent news websites and regularly blocked the main social media platforms, as detailed in previous Monitor reports. Commenting on the report, NGO IPYS Venezuela stated that they have registered 33 episodes of blocks to access to digital platforms between January and June of 2019. 22 temporary “blackouts” due to massive or local failures have also affected internet services as of June 2019.

In a separate development, on 16 July 2019, clarinettist Karen Palacios was released after 45 days of detention. In May 2019, Palacios had made a series of comments on Twitter denouncing the fact that her contract with Venezuela’s National Philharmonic Orchestra had been rejected because she opposed the Maduro government. Her tweets gained attention and in June 2019 she was arrested under charges of “public incitement”. Palacios was given a release order on 18 June 2019, but the order was only executed on 16 July after NGO Foro Penal organised a press conference with the artist’s mother. Palacio’s release is conditional on precautionary measures that include court appearances every month.