Populations at Risk
Ongoing political conflict and systematic human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela are putting populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government's policies has resulted in widespread protests in Venezuela. The government has routinely responded with disproportionate and deadly force. On 29 May 2018 a panel of independent experts mandated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of committing crimes against humanity, including 8,292 extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detention of more than 12,000 individuals since 2014.
A catastrophic economic crisis has resulted in hyper-inflation, food shortages and the collapse of essential services. In response to mass demonstrations that began during April 2017, a violent crackdown resulted in more than 100 people being killed over a three month period, including protesters and members of the security forces. According to the OAS report, the government of Venezuela committed human rights abuses and violations in its attempt to suppress protests. The report argued that "the widespread and systematic targeting of opponents of the regime or suspected 'enemies of the state'" constitute crimes against humanity.
During 2017 President Maduro undertook a number of controversial policy decisions, including the formation of a Constituent Assembly to supersede the opposition-controlled National Assembly and rewrite Venezuela's constitution. The creation of the Constituent Assembly was seen by many as an overt attempt to undermine Venezuela's democracy and move towards dictatorship.
Despite ongoing political tensions, a deepening economic crisis, and allegations of vote manipulation, during May 2018 President Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term. Major opposition parties boycotted the election.
According to the UN, an estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country over the past three years. Responding to the ongoing migration crisis, the OAS has called for greater burden sharing amongst regional governments, while international NGOs have called for the application of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which enables governments to grant refugee status to those fleeing "the massive violation of human rights" in their home country.
In the midst of a deepening economic crisis and ongoing political repression, Venezuelans face the ongoing risk of potential mass atrocity crimes. While the campaign of mass demonstrations has ended, political opponents of the government continue to face persecution, arbitrary detention, and torture.
The creation of the Constituent Assembly and political repression has consolidated President Maduro's increasingly authoritarian leadership. The government has taken steps to isolate itself from international scrutiny, including through announcing their withdrawal from the OAS.
The government is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Venezuelans, regardless of political belief or affiliation.
Various governments, including Venezuela's neighbors and the Secretary General of the OAS, have criticized the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela.
Following allegations of fraudulent regional elections, during November 2017 the European Union (EU) imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on Venezuela, including on the sale of equipment used for internal repression. Since the beginning of 2018 the EU has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 18 senior government officials. The United States has also imposed extensive bilateral sanctions on President Maduro and his family.
On 26 September six regional states referred the situation in Venezuela to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In a letter requesting the Chief Prosecutor open a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru became the first countries to refer a situation to the ICC for crimes that took place in the territory of another state party. The Prosecutor previously announced a preliminary examination in February 2018.
On 27 September the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela, formally requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the situation.
The government must immediately end systematic human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and the arbitrary detention of its political opponents. The government should demobilize the auxiliary militias – including civilian "colectivos" - and take meaningful steps to end the culture of political violence in Venezuela.
UN member states, including those within the region, should implement targeted sanctions on those government officials responsible for systematic violations and abuses of human rights in Venezuela.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018