Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government has resulted in widespread street protests. The government has routinely responded to public demonstrations with disproportionate force. On 29 May 2018 a panel of experts designated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of committing crimes against humanity since 2014, including 8,292 extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detention of more than 12,000 individuals.
During April 2017 a severe economic crisis resulted in extreme shortages of food, medicine and other essential goods, leading to mass demonstrations. A violent crackdown by the government resulted in more than 100 people being killed over a period of three months, including both protestors and members of the security forces.
During the protests, national security forces, together with civilian "colectivos" and other auxiliary militias, used excessive force against protestors. Opposition protestors retaliated with violent attacks on the security forces, including with improvised explosive devices. According to the OAS panel of experts report, the government of Venezuela systematically committed widespread human rights abuses and violations in its attempt to suppress mass protests and crush political opposition to President Maduro. The report states that "the widespread and systematic targeting of opponents of the regime or suspected 'enemies of the state'" constitute crimes against humanity committed as a matter of state policy.
President Maduro also undertook a number of controversial policy decisions that increased tensions between the government and opposition. This includes the creation of a Constituent Assembly which supersedes all other government institutions, including the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and is mandated to rewrite Venezuela's constitution. The creation of the Assembly was seen by the opposition and many international observers as an overt attempt to undermine Venezuela's democracy and move towards dictatorship.
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.
Tensions increased again during May 2018 when the government held presidential elections. Despite allegations of vote manipulation and lack of sufficient guarantees of a fair election process, President Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term.
The political crisis and related economic downturn have left many Venezuelans without adequate access to food, health care and basic services. More than 1.5 million people have left the country, fleeing to neighboring countries, including Brazil and Colombia.
Venezuela faces a violent and volatile situation that imperils the lives of civilians and threatens the stability of the region. While the campaign of mass demonstrations has ended, sporadic protests continue. The political opposition faces continued persecution, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture, ill-treatment and intimidation by the security forces.
The creation of the Constituent Assembly and growing 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 must uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Venezuelans, regardless of political affiliation.
Various governments, including Venezuela's neighbors, the European Parliament, and the Secretary General of the OAS have all criticized growing state repression. During February 2018 the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary investigation into the situation in Venezuela.
On 26 July 2017 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.
Following allegations of fraudulent regional elections during October 2017, the European Union imposed an arms embargo and economic sanctions on Venezuela in November 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, the European Union has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 18 senior Venezuelan officials.
On 5 July the European Parliament called for the ICC to open a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has also called for greater ICC involvement and the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate widespread human rights abuses and violations.
The government must immediately end the systematic human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detention of government opponents. The government should demobilize the colectivos and take proximate and meaningful steps to end the culture of political violence in Venezuela.
All extrajudicial killings should be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.
Last Updated: 27 July 2018