Photo: League of Justice

A university student held in custody for six months and tortured with electric shocks applied directly to his testicles, another one brutally beaten with a baseball bat and raped by National Guard (GNB) officers, teenagers held in prison, isolated from their families for planning to rally against the government in social networks, people taken out of their homes, shot dead in the middle of the street by police officers. These are just some of the stories retrieved by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) after interviewing 150 people and reviewing over 200 documents, proving the Venezuelan regime’s despise for human rights.

The investigation, presented in a categorical 71-page report (available in Spanish and English), concludes that Nicolás Maduro’s regime systematically violates human rights as part of a complex apparatus to attack dissidents. After outlining the reasons that brought Venezuela to this point, the UNHCHR lists a series of bone-chilling findings.

The investigation, presented in a categorical 71-page report, concludes that Nicolás Maduro’s regime systematically violates human rights.

Security forces directly under the supervision of the Venezuelan State, the report reads, were responsible of at least 46 deaths during the 2017 protest cycle, but one year later only one of them is on trial, with investigations dramatically slowing down since Tarek William Saab was named Prosecutor General last August. According to families interviewed by the UNHCHR, the Prosecutor’s office blatantly ignores key evidence, like security camera records proving the disproportionate use of force by state institutions. In the rare cases where authorities actually emit an arrest warrant, the GNB and other repressive forces refuse to accept them, halting investigations. Accused officers are just transferred to another state or “kept in custody” in military or police facilities with no restrictions at all.

Most of the families interviewed by the UNHCHR had been contacted by members of the Truth Commission named by the National Constituent Assembly last year, a body denounced to “lack operational independence (…) whose members are not recognised by many sectors of the society (…) and without the transparency needed to do its job.” Some families were offered money by the commission, in retribution for the murder of their relatives.  All families refused.

According to families interviewed by the UNHCHR, the Prosecutor’s office blatantly ignores key evidence.

The report also touches on something rarely spoken of: Murders in the context of security operatives unrelated to protests.

Homicides rates in Venezuela rose from 73 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, to 89 in 2017, and with it, so did extrajudicial executions, from 384 in 2012, to 2,379 in 2016 and 1,848 in the first six months of 2017. Most of these executions were carried out in the context of Operación Liberación del Pueblo (OLP for its Spanish acronym), the crime-fighting program launched by the government in 2015. OLPs involve the coordinated action of civilian security bodies like the National Police or SEBIN, with units from the GNB and the Military Counterintelligence Division, including an average of 500 officers per activity and the use of armored vehicles, drones and high-caliber firearms.

“At 4:00 a.m. in March, 2018, some 50 police agents broke into our house. They were all in black and wore a skull symbol on their jackets. They woke my 23-year-old grandson up, tied his hands with plastic ropes and took him. They told us to go to the police headquarters, but a few minutes later, we heard two gunshots. When we got to the street, the police officers were forming a circle around him, they threatened us and ordered us to get back inside. Later, the coroner told me my grandson was killed by two shots to his chest after being heavily beaten in the head.”

Stories like that are all over the UNHCHR’s report. In response to national and international critics, Maduro relaunched the program in 2017, adding the word humanistic to its name, obviously making it less horrible.

Homicides rates in Venezuela rose from 73 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, to 89 in 2017, and with it, so did extrajudicial executions.

The Junquito Massacre, where Óscar Pérez and his team were killed in January, 2018, is also mentioned. The evidence gathered by the UNHCHR indicates that although the rebel group had attempted to surrender, state agents received orders of executing them, confirming what Pérez’ infamous videos suggested.

The illegal detention of 59 Colombian citizens in 2016, all held inside a single cell after being accused by Maduro himself of belonging to a paramilitary group, and the execution of 39 disarmed inmates in a prison in Amazonas, 2017, are also exposed.

Officers involved in these cases were never properly investigated.

There’s also room for regular attacks against freedom of speech and harassment to NGOs and dissidence in general. The approval of the Law Against Hate,” a document deemed “vague and discretional” with the sole objective of “imposing self-censorship,”  and the detention of Gregory Hinds, director of the Fundación Embajadores Comunitarios earlier this year, are shown as examples of this policy.

Finally, the document also addresses the government’s responsibility in the destruction of the health network and the increasingly harder access to food, unmasking the fraud that the Barrio Adentro program ended up being, the direct relation between the nationalization policies taken by Chávez’ administration and the generalised scarcity of food, and the CLAP bags’ true nature as a mechanism of social control.

There’s also room for regular attacks against freedom of speech and harassment to NGOs and dissidence in general.

It also numbers a series a recommendations that will surely be completely ignored by the government.

Upon the report’s publication, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, declared that “Given that the state appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations, there is also a strong case to be made for deeper involvement by the International Criminal Court”, following the trail set a few weeks ago by the OAS.

There’s no doubt that Maduro’s tyrannical rule on Venezuela consolidates with every minute, but as it does, it continues to destroy whatever international legitimacy it once had. The clarity with which this document describes Maduro and his cronies as human right abusers is uncommon for a United Nations’ report and can’t be taken lightly.

This won’t take Maduro out of Miraflores, but it’ll certainly be waiting for him when he leaves power, and that’s already a big win.

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