Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
Systematic human rights abuses, ongoing political conflict, and increasingly violent protests in Venezuela are putting populations at growing risk of potential mass atrocity crimes.
Since mass demonstrations against the government began during April 2017, more than 110 Venezuelans have been killed, including both protestors and members of the security forces. Venezuelans face a growing risk of potential mass atrocity crimes as a result of systematic human rights abuses committed by the government and increasingly violent street protests.
Widespread discontent with the government has been fueled by a severe economic crisis that has resulted in extreme shortages of food, medicine and other essential goods. Opposition leaders and officials who have publicly criticized President Maduro, including Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, have faced asset seizures, a ban on running for public office, and prosecution. Several other opposition leaders appear to have been arbitrarily detained.
National security forces, together with civilian "colectivos" who have been mobilized as an auxiliary militia, have been accused of using excessive force against protestors, including using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Opposition protestors have retaliated with violent attacks on the security forces, including with improvised explosive devices. Government supporters have also been accused of targeting the opposition, including a 5 July attack in the National Assembly building during which several legislators were severely injured.
Tensions have increased significantly since 23 May when President Maduro formally announced plans for the creation of a Constituent Assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution and supersede other institutions, including the opposition-controlled National Assembly. This is seen by the opposition and many international observers as an overt attempt to undermine Venezuela's democracy and move towards dictatorship.
The vote on a Constituent Assembly took place on 30 July, despite the opposition calling for a boycott and organizing two general strikes in response. On 27 July the government banned all demonstrations that could "disturb or affect" the vote, threatening prison terms of up to ten years for anyone contravening the ban. At least 10 people were killed amid clashes between security forces and protestors.
Venezuela faces an increasingly violent and volatile situation that imperils the lives of civilians and threatens the stability of the region. The government has encouraged the security forces' use of disproportionate and deadly force against protestors and has armed and mobilized the colectivos. The political opposition also appears increasingly unable to control the actions of mainly young protestors who are engaged in daily street battles with the security forces. Tensions will continue to be high as the government convenes the Constituent Assembly and outlines its intentions with regard to the future of democracy in Venezuela.
The government must uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Venezuelans, regardless of political affiliation.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made repeated calls for Venezuela to hold a national dialogue. Various governments, including Venezuela's neighbors, the European Parliament, and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) have criticized growing state repression, prompting Venezuela to announce its plan to formally leave the organization.
The OAS has held several meetings regarding the situation in Venezuela since the start of the mass protests, but has failed to agree upon a common declaration regarding the crisis. On 25 July the Secretary General of the OAS announced that the organization would work with former ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the government.
On 28 April a group of UN Special Rapporteurs released a statement calling for the government to allow peaceful protests and to investigate the killing of demonstrators. On 30 June the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern regarding the decision to strip Attorney General Ortega of her mandate, noting her efforts to defend human rights and document deaths during protests.
On 26 July the United States, which is openly hostile to President Maduro's government, sanctioned 13 current and former senior officials associated with "undermining democracy, as well as the government's rampant violence against opposition protestors." On 31 July the United States issued direct sanctions against President Maduro.
On 31 July the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called upon all parties to refrain from the use of violence, emphasizing that the Venezuelan authorities must cease the use of excessive force to repress demonstrations. OHCHR also called for prompt and independent investigations into deaths during the 30 July vote.
The government must halt the use of disproportionate and deadly force by the security forces and end systematic human rights abuses. All assassinations and deaths resulting from protest violence should be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The government should demobilize the colectivos, and take proximate and meaningful steps to end the culture of political violence in Venezuela.
The international community, particularly the OAS, should pressure the government to hold credible negotiations with the opposition and work to end the political crisis in Venezuela.
Last Updated: 27 July 2017