Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government has led to widespread protests. A catastrophic economic crisis has resulted in hyper-inflation, food shortages and the collapse of essential services. The government has routinely responded to mass protests with disproportionate and deadly force as well as the mobilization of auxiliary militias, so-called "colectivos." During 2018 a panel of independent experts mandated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of crimes against humanity.
The Venezuelan government has reported that 6,856 people have been killed in "security operations" since January 2018. From 19-21 June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights undertook her first official visit to Venezuela, raising alarm about an "unusually high" number of suspected extrajudicial killings. The High Commissioner has also reported on the arbitrary detention of government opponents and their family members, often accompanied by allegations of torture, ill-treatment and/or sexual and gender-based violence. Following her visit, the government agreed to the presence of human rights officers mandated to monitor the situation.
Despite an opposition boycott and allegations of electoral fraud, President Maduro was re-elected in May 2018. The start of his second term in January 2019 sparked a diplomatic crisis as the United States and many Latin American and European countries recognized the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim President. Amnesty International reported that anti-government protests during January resulted in at least 47 people being killed.
On 30 April Guaidó called for a popular uprising in what he announced would be the "final phase" to remove Maduro from power. Government security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse protesters. Following the failed uprising, the government accused legislators from the opposition-controlled National Assembly of treason and conspiracy.
While the government of Norway has facilitated mediation between the government and opposition, no progress has been achieved thus far.
In the midst of an intense and ongoing political struggle between Maduro and Guaidó for control of the state, Venezuelans face a risk of potential atrocity crimes. With the leadership of the armed forces remaining loyal to Maduro, the government has taken steps to isolate itself from international scrutiny, including withdrawing from the OAS.
Current mediation efforts constitute an important opportunity, but it remains unclear whether the rival parties are willing to work together to resolve the political conflict. Political violence has created an environment which facilitates the commission of serious violations and abuses of human rights, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity.
Although the government has agreed to some humanitarian relief provided by the UN and other neutral actors, access restraints continue. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 7 million people, 25 percent of the population, are in need of urgent assistance.
The government is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect all Venezuelans regardless of political affiliation.
Various governments, including the majority of OAS member states, have publicly criticized systematic human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, and more than 50 governments now recognize Guaidó as interim President.
During November 2017 the European Union (EU) imposed an arms embargo on Venezuela. The EU has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 18 senior government officials. The United States has also imposed extensive sanctions on Maduro, his family and senior members of his government.
On 26 September 2018 six states referred the situation in Venezuela to the International Criminal Court (ICC). By 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 government must immediately end the persecution of its political opponents, demobilize auxiliary militias, ensure impartial investigations of all extrajudicial killings, and lift unreasonable restrictions on humanitarian relief. The government should uphold its expressed commitment to grant Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) full access to detention centers and release all those who have been arbitrarily detained.
UN member states should impose targeted sanctions on all government officials responsible for systematic violations and abuses of human rights in Venezuela, including the torture of political detainees. The mediation process led by Norway should also be supported.
The Human Rights Council, during its 42nd session in September, should request OHCHR to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation in Venezuela, with a view to ensure accountability for possible crimes against hu-manity.
Last Updated: 15 July 2019
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Venezuela has been featured in R2P Monitor since November 2018.