United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) members on September 11 that his investigation of crisis-hit Venezuela revealed possible crimes against humanity. He called to “establish an international investigation into the human rights violations” in the country.
The investigation follows four months of demonstrations against leftist President Nicolás Maduro in which clashes between protesters and security forces have left around 130 dead. Victims include many students protesting the country’s triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of food, medicine, and other basic goods.
Venezuelan opposition members accuse Maduro of turning the oil-rich country into a dictatorship, while government leaders claim protesters carried-out violent demonstrations and terrorist acts.
“There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the [Venezuelan] government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices—including through criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amount to torture,” Al Hussein told council members.
Also present at the council meeting was Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who demanded Al Hussein stop his office’s “aggressions” toward Venezuela and slammed the use of human rights as a “political weapon.” He also told council members that recent reports from the U.N. human rights office “have no methodological rigor and [are]trying to upset [Venezuela’s] sovereignty, peace, and stability.”
The reports were issued after Al Hussein’s office conducted interviews with “135 Venezuelan victims and their families, as well as witnesses, journalists, lawyers, and doctors,” who claimed that the government incorporated “the use of electric shocks, severe beatings, stress positions, suffocation, and threats of sexual violence and death.”
Still, Former-Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez tweeted, “[U.N.] High Commissioner builds false positive against Venezuela to justify imperial intervention. Our country gives lessons in human rights.”
Al Hussein continued his statement by pointing out that Venezuela is among the 47 members of the UNHRC and, thus, has a duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
He concluded, “Member states should send a clear message to the Venezuelan government that these abuses are not tolerated and those responsible of abuses will eventually be brought to justice.”