Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Venezuela

Ongoing political conflict and systematic human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela are putting populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
BACKGROUND:
Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government's policies has resulted in widespread protests. The government has routinely responded to public demonstrations 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 since 2014, including 8,292 extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detention of more than 12,000 individuals.

A catastrophic economic crisis has resulted in hyper-inflation, food shortages, and the collapse of essential services, leading to another wave of mass demonstrations that began during April 2017. A violent crackdown by the government resulted in more than 100 people being killed over a three month period, including both protestors and members of the security forces. According to the OAS report, the government of Venezuela systematically committed widespread human rights abuses and violations in its attempt to suppress the protests. 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.

During 2017 President Maduro undertook a number of controversial policy decisions that further increased hostility between the government and opposition parties. This included the formation of a Constituent Assembly in May 2017, which superseded the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and was mandated to rewrite Venezuela's constitution. The creation of the Constituent Assembly was seen by many international observers 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.

Opposition leaders and officials who have publicly criticized President Maduro, including Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, former Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles and other political leaders, have faced asset seizures, a ban on running for public office, or prosecution. Several opposition leaders have been arbitrarily detained and a number have fled into exile.

According to the UN, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the past three years. Responding to the ongoing migration crisis, the OAS has called for greater burden sharing among regional governments, while international NGOs have called for the application of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, which calls for governments to grant refugee status to those fleeing "the massive violation of human rights" in their home country.

ANALYSIS:
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 violent persecution, arbitrary detention, and torture by the security forces.

The creation of the Constituent Assembly and overt 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 affiliation.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
Various governments, including Venezuela's neighbors and the Secretary General of the OAS, have all criticized growing state repression and the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela.

During July 2017 the United States sanctioned 13 current and former senior Venezuelan officials associated with "undermining democracy, as well as the government's rampant violence against opposition protestors." On 31 July 2017 the United States imposed sanctions on President Maduro. On 25 September 2018, further sanctions were imposed on President Maduro's family and government, including First Lady, Cilia Adela Flores de Maduro.

Following allegations of fraudulent regional elections, during November 2017 the European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, including on the sale of equipment used for internal repression. Since the beginning of 2018, the European Union has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 18 senior Venezuelan government officials.

On 26 September, in a historic decision, 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. In February 2018 the ICC announced a preliminary examination of the situation in Venezuela.

On 27 September the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela, requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights prepare a written report on the situation.

NECESSARY ACTION:
The government must immediately end systematic human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and the arbitrary detention of 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 with command responsibility for systematic violations and abuses of human rights in Venezuela.

Last Updated: 3 October 2018