Populations at Risk
Ongoing political conflict and systematic human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela leave populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government's policies has resulted in widespread protests. Government mismanagement and a catastrophic economic crisis have resulted in hyper-inflation, acute food shortages and the collapse of essential services. The government has routinely responded to protests with disproportionate and deadly force.
During 2018 a panel of independent experts mandated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of crimes against humanity, including 8,292 extrajudicial killings and the arbitrary detention of more than 12,000 people since 2014. According to the OAS, security forces engaged in "widespread and systematic targeting of opponents of the regime or suspected 'enemies of the state'" during a violent crackdown on protests during April-June 2017 that resulted in more than 100 people being killed.
Despite an opposition boycott and allegations of electoral fraud, President Maduro was re-elected during May 2018. Mass demonstrations were held in opposition to his inauguration in January 2019. The start of his second term sparked a diplomatic crisis as dozens of governments, including the United States and many Latin American and European countries, recognized the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim President. Anti-government protests during January resulted in at least 40 people being killed and an estimated 850 detained. At the time of publication, a crippling blackout had left the country without electricity for days, adding to the developing sense of crisis.
On 23 February conflict also escalated along Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil when the security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse protests against the government's blockade of mostly United States-sponsored humanitarian aid.
In the midst of mass protests and an intense 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, Guaidó's call for ongoing mass protests may set the stage for a major confrontation between the government and opposition.
The government has also taken steps to isolate itself from international scrutiny, including withdrawing from the OAS. Threats by senior politicians in the United States regarding the possibility of an invasion of Venezuela have complicated attempts to negotiate an end to the political crisis. Such an invasion would be illegal under international law.
The government is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Venezuelans, regardless of political affiliation.
Various governments, including OAS member states, have publicly criticized systematic human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela. More than 50 governments now recognize Guaidó as interim President of Venezuela.
During November 2017 the European Union (EU) imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on Venezuela. The EU has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 18 senior government officials. The United States has imposed extensive sanctions on Maduro and his family.
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 systematic human rights violations and abuses, demobilize auxiliary militias - including "colectivos" - and ensure the security forces refrain from the disproportionate and deadly use of force against protesters.
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 UN, with the support of Latin American states and the OAS, should help negotiate an end to the crisis.
Humanitarian relief efforts should be strictly guided by the principles of independence and impartiality, and aid deliveries should be coordinated with UN agencies.
Last Updated: 15 March 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.