Former Chile president Michelle Bachelet, currently serving as 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. She also voiced concerns the criminalisation of some domestic rights groups.
Non-governmental organisations report that the Special Action police force (FAES) carried out 57 suspected extrajudicial killings in July alone within Caracas, Michelle Bachelet said in an oral presentation on Venezuela to the UN 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. Itt called on Caracas to "dissolve" an organisation suspected of carrying out numerous extrajudicial executions.
"My office has not received information regarding measures taken to implement the recommendation made in my report to dissolve the FAES and prevent extrajudicial executions," Bachelet said Monday. "On the contrary, the FAES have received support from the highest level of government."
In her update on the Venezuela situation, Bachelet also cited a range of other grave rights violations in the country, which is caught in an economic crisis and a political standoff between President Maduro's government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó.
The oil-rich country suffers from hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods from food to medicine, a crisis that has forced some 3.6 million people to flee the country since 2016.
The UN rights chief reiterated her criticism of US sanctions targeting Venezuela, warning that they were exacerbating the suffering of an already vulnerable population.
Bachelet's latest presentation noted some areas of progress, while pointing to more cases of human rights violations and declining conditions as more than four million Venezuelan have fled a country beset by hyperinflation that leaves monthly minimum wages equal to $US2.
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.
Maduro's government didn't immediately respond to Bachelet's latest comments, but officials rejected earlier criticism as biased and demanded she make corrections.