Venezuela’s rulers accused by UN of death squads and policy of fear

(BBC) – The UN has accused Venezuela of a strategy of instilling fear in its population to retain power, removing opponents with a “shocking” number of alleged extrajudicial killings.

Victims are arrested and shot, with crime scenes manipulated to suggest they resisted police, a report says.

The UN urges Venezuela to end the “grave violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights”.

Nicolás Maduro’s administration has not yet officially responded to the report. Venezuela has in the past dismissed human rights allegations as “lies”.

Mr Maduro is locked in a political battle with opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Mr Guaidó, head of the country’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president in January and has the backing of more than 50 countries, including the US and most of Latin America. Mr Maduro retains the loyalty of most of the military and important allies such as China and Russia.

Some four million people have fled Venezuela since 2015, according to the UN, amid a severe economic crisis that has resulted in high unemployment and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

What is the UN report and what does it allege?

The report is scheduled to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on Friday.

It is based on “558 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and the deteriorating economic situation” from January 2018 to May 2019.

Its most damning findings relate to the number of deaths the Venezuelan government has ascribed to resisting arrest.

The report comes after UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited VenezuelaImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe report comes after UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet visited Venezuela

That figure for last year was 5,287, with another 1,569 up to 19 May this year.

Referring to these figures as “unusually” and “shockingly” high, the report says: “Information analysed by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights suggests many of these killings may constitute extrajudicial executions.”

The UN says witnesses reported how the Special Action Forces (FAES) “manipulated the crime scene and evidence. They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had ‘resisted authority'”.

It adds that the UN “is concerned the authorities may be using FAES and other security forces as an instrument to instil fear in the population and to maintain social control”.

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the report paints a dark picture of Venezuela, in which unmarked black vans arrive in poor neighbourhoods, masked officers get out, round up young men and shoot them.