Michelle Bachelet’s appeal to the Government of Nicolas Maduro comes ahead of her address to the Human Rights Council on Friday and follows her official visit to Venezuela from 19 to 21 June.
Her comments follow the publication of a new report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Venezuela, mandated by the Human Rights Council, in response to longstanding concerns by Member States.
Previous OHCHR reports have highlighted killings, the use of excessive force against
demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture.
The latest publication warns that “if the situation does not improve, the unprecedented outflow of Venezuelan migrants and refugees will continue, and the living conditions of those who remain will worsen”.
In June, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that some four million people are now believed to have left the country in the last four years, amid reportedly dire shortages of food and basic services.
“During my visit to Venezuela, I was able to hear first-hand the accounts of victims of State violence and their demands for justice,” Ms. Bachelet said. “I have faithfully conveyed their voices, and those of civil society, as well as the human rights violations documented in this report, to the relevant authorities.”
The OHCHR report’s findings are based on more than 550 interviews with victims and witnesses of abuses and the deteriorating economic situation in Venezuela and eight other countries.
In addition to detailing how State institutions have been “steadily militarized” over the past decade, it states that civil and military forces have been allegedly responsible for “arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture” of critics of the Government; sexual and gender-based violence in detention and “excessive use of force during demonstrations”.
Pro-Government armed civilian groups in spotlight
Citing 66 deaths during protests between January and May 2019, of which 52 were attributable to Government security forces, or pro-Government armed civilian groups known as “colectivos”, OHCHR maintains that, as of 31 May 2019, 793 people remained in arbitrary detention, including 58 women. “They contributed to the deteriorating situation by exercising social control and helping repress demonstrations,” the OHCHR report says of the “colectivos”.
Allegations of extrajudicial killings by security forces have been “shockingly high”, the report continues, citing the involvement of special forces (FAES).
In 2018, the Government registered 5,287 killings, purportedly for “resistance to authority” during operations, the report continues, adding that between 1 January and 19 May this year, another 1,569 people were killed, according to Government figures.
Turning to the country’s political crisis, the report notes that so far this year, 22 deputies of the National Assembly have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity, as well as to the forum’s leader and self-appointed interim President, Juan Guaido.
People ‘have to queue 10 hours per day for food’
On the plight of ordinary Venezuelans, OHCHR insists that “large sections of the population have no access to food distribution.
Women are particularly hard-hit, it continues, amid a “progressive scarcity and unaffordability of food” and reports that some are “spending an average of 10 hours per day queuing for food”.
Health provision is also described as “dire, with hospitals lacking staff, supplies, medicines and electricity to keep vital machinery running”.
Between November 2018 and February 2019, 1,557 people died because of lack of supplies in hospitals, the report notes, citing a national hospital survey.
Minorities lost land to military, armed groups
Indigenous peoples are also shown to have been disproportionately impacted, amid a loss of control of their land to military forces, organised criminal gangs and armed groups.
“Mining, particularly in Amazonas and Bolivar…has resulted in violations of various collective rights, including rights to maintain customs, traditional ways of life, and a spiritual relationship with their land,” the report adds.
In response to the report’s findings, the High Commissioner urged the Government to follow its recommendations. “We should all be able to agree that all Venezuelans deserve a better life, free from fear and with access to adequate food, water, healthcare, housing and all other basic human needs,” Ms. Bachelet said. “I call on all those with the power and influence – within Venezuela and elsewhere – to work together, and to make the necessary compromises to resolve this all-consuming crisis. My Office stands ready to continue doing its part.”