UN experts: Rights abuses continue in Maduro’s Venezuela

Sep 19, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: Sep 20, 2022, 2:08 pm

FILE - Venezuela's National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters, known as El Helicoide, stand...

FILE - Venezuela's National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters, known as El Helicoide, stands in front of La Cota 905 neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 12, 2022. Independent experts working with the U.N.’s top human rights body said in a report released on Sept. 20 that Venezuelan authorities have failed to hold to account state-backed perpetrators of violations including arbitrary executions, sexual violence and torture of civilians, warning that abuses continue by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and military counterintelligence service (DGCIM). (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Independent experts working with the U.N.’s top human rights body say Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro personally ordered the detention of government opponents and critics who ended up suffering electric shocks, beatings, asphyxiation and other cruel acts while in custody.

The third report from the fact-finding mission on Venezuela, commissioned by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, was released Tuesday and adds new detail on a string of rights violations — including possible crimes against humanity — under Maduro’s government that the experts first documented two years ago.

The report and the mission’s leader said torture was ordered by Maduro in some cases but provided no details of specific instances. The three-person mission reached that conclusion primarily through interviews with former members of the South American country’s intelligence agencies.

“We base it on different but consistent testimonies that we receive from our sources of information, and so, we try to corroborate and verify this type of information,” Marta Valiñas, a Portuguese legal expert who chairs the mission, told The Associated Press. “But that’s what we received with regards to the involvement of higher political levels, including the president, in determining who should be monitored and detained and in some cases also receiving treatment that would then amount to acts of torture or other forms of ill treatment.”

The mission does not have judicial powers, but the evidence it has gathered could one day be used by the International Criminal Court or by any country that might apply “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute alleged crimes against humanity.

The government did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. It has also failed to respond to more than 20 letters from the mission, which has not received permission to enter the country.

The report states Maduro and ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello have given orders “identifying targets for investigation,” including civilians and government critics. Those orders were followed by members of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, who arrested individuals after “a period of surveillance and investigation” and tortured or subjected them “to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Some were tortured for days or weeks.

The intelligence service “relied on a range of torture methods, including beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation with plastic bags and stress positions, as well as threats to kill and rape detainees, or other forms of psychological torture,” according to the report. The document says the agency’s main targets included opposition, student and protest leaders; journalists; and people working for non-governmental organizations.

“Venezuela is still facing a profound human rights crisis,” Valiñas said. She urged Venezuelan authorities to take the mission’s “findings seriously and act upon them” as they have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute the abuses, but she also acknowledged that as the group has previously documented, various issues “do not guarantee that the justice system acts independently and impartially.”

The mission said authorities have not done enough to compensate victims and cautioned that violations continue “to this day” under the military counterintelligence service, known as DGCIM, and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service.

“The Venezuelan authorities have failed to hold perpetrators to account and provide reparations to victims in a context where judicial reforms announced from 2021 have failed to address the justice system’s lack of independence and impartiality,” a statement from the mission said.

The brazenness of the intelligence officers, according to the report, have even affected Maduro himself. In an instance described in the report, Maduro’s private vehicle was stopped by Cabello’s command with the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service.

“Maduro reportedly got out of the car and told them to surrender their weapons, to which they replied ‘you are not our boss,'” according to the report. “Maduro allegedly called DGCIM to arrest the men and subsequently replaced” the head of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service for some time.

The team, which drew its findings in part from nearly 250 interviews, documented a total of 122 cases of victims who were subjected by DGCIM agents to torture, sexual violence and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at its headquarters in Caracas and covert centers around the country.

The report also documents human rights abuses in a remote region where illegal gold mining is prevalent. The area, known as the Arco Minero del Orinoco, was established last decade as the country’s oil industry, whose proceeds kept the country moving, came undone.

The region has become heavily militarized and armed groups are allowed to operate. The mission’s findings include attacks on Indigenous populations in the area that generate opportunities for individuals close to power to generate personal wealth.

“The Mission has reviewed publicly available information indicating that members of the Venezuelan military and political elite have benefited and continue to benefit financially from gold mining-related activities in the Arco Minero,” according to the report.

The experts are expected to present their findings to the council, which last week began its latest autumn session, on Monday.


Keaten reported from Geneva.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Image: The Alabama State Capitol is seen on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama....

Associated Press

Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are ‘children’ under state law

Critics say the Alabama embryo ruling may have sweeping implications for fertility treatments.

15 hours ago

Image: People take cover during a shooting at Union Station during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bow...

Associated Press

Two men charged with murder at Kansas City Chiefs parade

Minutes after Kansas City Chiefs players spoke at a victory celebration Wednesday, multiple people near the parade route were carried away on stretchers.

16 hours ago

Image: A sign is on display above an ATM at a Capital One Café in Miami on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. ...

Associated Press

Capital One to buy Discover for $35B in deal combining major US credit card companies

The deal would bring together two of the nation's credit card companies as well as potentially shake up the payments industry.

22 hours ago

Image: The Minnesota state flag is displayed in the state Capitol building rotunda, March 24, 2022,...

Associated Press

2 officers, 1 first responder killed at the scene of a domestic call in Minnesota; suspect dead

Two police officers and one first responder were shot and killed early Sunday while responding to a domestic abuse call in a Minneapolis suburb.

3 days ago

Image: Former President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil ...

Associated Press

Donald Trump fraud verdict: $364 million penalty in civil fraud case

A New York judge ruled Friday against Donald Trump, imposing a $364 million penalty over what was ruled was a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others.

5 days ago

Image: Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, left, celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating t...

Associated Press

Taylor Swift gives $100K to family of woman killed in Chiefs parade shooting

Taylor Swift donated $100,000 to the family of Lisa Lopez-Galvan, the woman killed in the shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl victory parade.

5 days ago

UN experts: Rights abuses continue in Maduro’s Venezuela