Experts cite 'crimes against humanity' in Maduro's Venezuela

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Experts cite 'crimes against humanity' in Maduro's Venezuela

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) — Independent experts for the UN's top human rights body accused the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday of crimes against humanity, highlighting grisly cases of torture and killings allegedly carried out by security forces who used techniques like electric shocks, genital mutilation and asphyxiation.

In a scathing, in-depth report commissioned by the Human Rights Council, the experts said the people responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other crimes must be held to account to provide justice for untold thousands of victims and to ensure such crimes don't happen again.

The findings of the report are likely to ratchet up pressure on Maduro's government, which has overseen a country in tatters with runaway inflation, a violent crackdown and an exodus of millions of Venezuelans who have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the turmoil since he took power in 2013.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza lashed out saying the report written by an alleged fact-finding mission was actually led by a group of nations set on attacking Venezuela.

"This report plagued by falsehoods was drawn up from afar without relying on rigorous methodology by a phantom mission directed against Venezuela by governments subordinate to Washington," Arreaza said on Twitter.

The experts say they delved into nearly 3,000 cases, looked at more than 5,000 killings and concluded that Maduro and his defense and interior ministers were aware of the crimes committed by Venezuelan security forces and intelligence agencies.

They further alleged that high-level authorities had both power and oversight over the forces and agencies, making the top officials responsible. Venezuelan authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Critics have already accused Maduro's government of crimes against humanity. But the 411-page report represents one of the most extensive looks at recent rights abuses in Venezuela, drawing upon interviews with victims, relatives, witnesses, police, officials and judges, plus videos, satellite imagery and social media content. The authors said they did not receive responses from the government.

The experts — Marta Valinas of Portugal, Francisco Cox Vial of Chile, and Paul Seils of Britain — worked under a fact-finding mission that the 47-nation Human Rights Council, the UN's top human rights body, set up in September to investigate alleged acts of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and other human rights violations in Venezuela since 2014.

"These acts were committed pursuant to two state policies, one to quash opposition to the government and another to combat crime, including by eliminating individuals perceived as criminals," Valinas told reporters. "We also consider that the documented crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population."

"For these reasons, the mission has reasonable grounds to believe that they amount to crimes against humanity," she said, noting the alleged arbitrary killings and systematic use of torture, in particular.

Under Article 7 of the UN treaty that established the International Criminal Court, a crime against humanity is defined as an act committed as part of a "widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population."
The experts said the violations in Venezuela took place amid a breakdown of democratic institutions, rule of law and judicial independence in the country, often during crackdowns on protesters.

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