Populations at Risk
Ongoing state-led violence in Venezuela leaves populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government has led to widespread protests in Venezuela. 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 pro-government groups, including so-called armed "colectivos." During 2018 a panel of independent experts mandated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of Venezuela of perpetrating 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.
Despite 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. While the government of Norway has mediated between the government and opposition since May 2019, the process ended in September without any formal progress.
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 humanitarian assistance.
In the midst of an ongoing struggle between the government and opposition for control of the state, Venezuelans face an enduring risk of potential atrocity crimes. Following years of the militarization of state institutions, the leadership of the armed forces and all government structures remain deeply politicized. Ongoing political violence has created an environment that facilitates the commission of serious violations and abuses of human rights, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity.
The expansion of United States (US) economic sanctions against the Maduro government is likely to further exacerbate the humanitarian emergency by putting at risk the importation of essential goods, including food and medicine.
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. More than 50 governments now recognize Guaidó as interim President.
Since November 2017 the European Union has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 25 senior government officials. The US has 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.
On 27 September 2019, under the leadership the so-called "Lima Group," the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution establishing an independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) for Venezuela, mandated to investigate ongoing serious violations and abuses of human rights.
Despite ongoing human rights violations and abuses, on 17 October Venezuela was elected to the HRC for the 2020-2022 term.
The government must immediately end the systematic persecution of its political opponents, demobilize auxiliary militias, ensure impartial investigations of all extrajudicial killings, and lift all unreasonable restrictions on humanitarian relief.
The HRC should ensure the swift operationalization of the FFM. The government should fully cooperate with the FFM and grant its members unrestricted access to the country. The government should also uphold its commitment to grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to detention centers.
UN member states should impose targeted sanctions on all senior government officials responsible for systematic violations and abuses of human rights, but refrain from any measures that may further limit the population's access to basic goods and essential services.
Last Updated: 15 November 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.