Human Rights Watch finds ‘systematic’ rights violations in Venezuela



Investigation finds security forces engaged in ‘serious abuse’ – including torture – against anti-government protesters May 5, 2014 11:39AM ET

Venezuela's security forces have engaged in a "pattern of serious abuses" against anti-government protesters — including the use of torture — with the apparent aim of punishing political dissent, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday.

In a report titled "Punished for Protesting," (PDF) the international monitoring group said members of the Venezuelan attorney general's office and the judiciary in many cases "knew of, participated in, or otherwise tolerated abuses against protesters and detainees, including serious violations of their due process rights."

Venezuela has been convulsed by sometimes-violent protests against the leftist government of President Nicolás Maduro. Since mid-February the violence has killed 41 people, almost all of them civilians.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW's Americas director, said the pattern of abuse has created "one of the most serious crises in Venezuela in years."

An investigation conducted by HRW in Venezuela in March found what it said was "strong evidence" of rights abuses in 45 cases involving 150 civilians in Caracas and three states.

"What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse," it said. In at least 10 cases, "the abuses clearly constituted torture."

"In most of the cases we documented, security forces employed unlawful force, including shooting and severely beating unarmed individuals," it said.

"Nearly all of the victims were also arrested and, while in detention, subjected to physical and psychological abuse." HRW said "security forces allowed armed pro-government gangs to assault unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with them in the attacks, our research found."

It also said that in the cases it had documented the evidence indicated that the victims of security force abuses were unarmed and nonviolent, and some of the worst abuses were committed against people who were not even participating in protests, or were already in detention.

Venezuela-protest Click here for more stories about Venezuela "The nature and timing of many of these abuses — as well as the frequent use of political epithets by the perpetrators — suggest that their aim was not to enforce the law or disperse protests but rather to punish people for their political views or perceived views," the report said.

In many instances, security forces appeared to be targeting individuals taking pictures or videotaping confrontations with protests, and about half of them were journalists, HRW said.

Maduro has acknowledged some abuses by security officials, but strongly denies accusations of a systematic campaign of human rights violations and says Venezuela's security forces were transformed when his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1998.

State prosecutors have opened 142 investigations of human rights abuses, including one for torture, and detained 17 officials in connection with excessive violence.

The report said that some protesters have used violence, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and that security forces also have suffered deaths and injuries in connection with the protests.

The demonstrations began in protest over crime, inflation and product shortages. Accusations of police abuse during the unrest quickly became another motivation for the protests, which have nonetheless waned in recent weeks.

Maduro appears to have weathered the worst, however, and shows no sign of stepping down or being pushed from office.

Wire services