Venezuela should release jailed opponents: UN rights chief Says

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on Venezuelato release jailed dissidents Friday and said the country faces a “serious” humanitarian situation.

Her comments came at the end of a three-day visit to the country at the invitation of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, who has faced allegations of cracking down on political opponents amid rampant hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods.

“I call on the authorities to release all those who are detained or deprived of their liberty for exercising their civil rights in a peaceful manner,” said Bachelet, referring to the hundreds of Maduro government opponents who are currently jailed.

The UN rights chief met relatives of these detainees, many of whom are accused of “conspiracy” to overthrow the government. She also spoke with relatives of people who died during the anti-Maduro protests of 2017.

Rights groups had pushed Bachelet to raise the issue of 715 people they say have been jailed for political reasons, a claim Maduro’s government rejects.

Meanwhile, Maduro said he would respect the recommendations made by Bachelet, a former Chilean president.

“We have taken a first step towards a smoother, more cooperative relationship on the human rights of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said, who thanked Bachelet for having responded to the invitation of the Bolivarian government.

“I told her that she can count on me, as president, to take her suggestions, her recommendations and her proposals seriously,” Maduro said, adding that people accused of human rights abuses would be prosecuted.

Bachelet also said she had appointed delegates to remain in the country with the mandate “to provide assistance and technical advice, but also, very importantly, to continue to monitor the human rights situation across Venezuela”.

Bachelet has also been critical of US sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump against Maduro, raising concerns that restrictions on trade with Venezuela could have negative repercussions for the general population in a country where 96 percent of the budget is based on oil.

During her visit, Bachelet also met opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognised as Venezuela’s interim president by some 50 countries, including the US.