The United Nations has criticised Nicolás Maduro-led Venezuela government for suing “widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions” against protesters, amid worsening tensions and fresh moves against the opposition.
The responsibility for human rights violations in the country “lies at the highest level of government,” the United Nations human rights office, based in Switzerland, has said. It also highlighted witness accounts of police and soldiers using “disproportionate force to instill fear, crush dissent, and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions”.
Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of “the breakdown of the rule of law” in the South American OPEC member country,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement.
“Government authorities have rarely condemned such incidents,” the UN report said.
The South American country, which is suffering from an acute economic crisis marked by shortages of basic goods, has experienced four months of street demonstrations against President Nicolás Maduro that have left 125 people dead. And the recent installation of an all-powerful Constituent Assembly, that would enable Maduro to rewrite the country’s Constitution, have further fuelled the protest. The Constituent Assembly does not include opposition supporters due to their boycott.
There was no immediate reaction from Venezuela’s leftist government to the scathing criticism from the UN, which said preliminary findings from an investigation conducted in June and July “paint a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela.”
“More than 5,000 people have been arbitrarily detained, and more than 1,000 reportedly still are in detention,” the UN report says.
The UN also found that security forces were allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths, and pro-government armed groups were allegedly responsible for 27 among 124 deaths being investigated in connection with the demonstrations.
Pro-government armed groups “routinely break into protests on motorcycles, wielding firearms and harassing or in some cases shooting at people.”
Major Latin American nations have rejected the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly, and South American nations have indefinitely suspended Venezuela from the Mercosur trading bloc for breaking "democratic order".
Foreign ministers of 16 Latin American and Caribbean nations as well as Canada met in Peru on Tuesday to evaluate further measures.