Venezuela

1 March 2022
Risk Level: Serious Concern
More than 6 million people have left the country since 2014

Ongoing state-sanctioned persecution in Venezuela may amount to crimes against humanity.

BACKGROUND:

Since 2014 Venezuelan security and intelligence forces have been accused of widespread torture, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances in an attempt to silence political dissent. State agents, including the Special Action Forces (FAES), have also allegedly perpetrated thousands of extrajudicial killings in the name of combatting crime.

For nearly eight years, Venezuela has experienced an unprecedented humanitarian, economic and political crisis. When mass protests erupted in response to insecurity, hyperinflation and a lack of essential services in 2014, security forces reacted with disproportionate force, torture and sexual violence. State agents responded with similar patterns of violations and abuses during other mass protests, including in 2017 and 2019. Throughout the crisis, civil society, independent media and opposition members, as well as human rights and humanitarian actors have faced persecution by the government.

In September 2020 the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela warned that patterns of violations and abuses between 2014-2020 were authorized at the highest level of government and committed as part of a “widespread and systematic attack” against the civilian population that may amount to crimes against humanity. In December 2020 the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) asserted that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed since at least April 2017. In September 2021 the FFM warned that Venezuela’s judicial system is perpetuating impunity for possible crimes against humanity, and that previously identified patterns of serious violations and abuses persist.

In August 2021 representatives of the government and opposition began a dialogue process to address the protracted political crisis. The government suspended its participation in October following the extradition of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro to the United States (US).

Millions of Venezuelans are suffering from a complex humanitarian emergency, including a collapsed healthcare system, widespread malnutrition and food insecurity. More than 6 million have left the country since 2014 in what has become the largest migration crisis in Latin America.

Communities along Venezuela’s border with Colombia and other areas of the country, including mining areas, are also at heightened risk of egregious abuses, violence and exploitation by non-state armed groups or criminal gangs, acting at times with the consent of state agents.

ANALYSIS:

Extrajudicial killings appear to be part of a systematic strategy to combat crime and reinforce social control. Government-linked media outlets play a key role in state repression and persecution. The judicial system emboldens state agents to continue perpetrating possible crimes against humanity.

The ICC’s December 2021 decision to open an investigation is an important step in advancing accountability efforts and exerting pressure on the government to investigate all perpetrators within the security and intelligence forces, regardless of rank.

Venezuela is facing a humanitarian catastrophe as a result of endemic corruption, economic collapse, erosion of the rule of law and political conflict and repression. The absence of accountable state authority along Venezuela’s borders and other areas across the country has facilitated violent organized crime and the proliferation of non-state armed actors.

Despite being a current member of the HRC, the government refuses to commit to system-wide human rights reform and is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect all Venezuelans.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:

Since November 2017 the European Union has imposed asset freezes on 55 individuals, including senior government officials. The US government has imposed targeted sanctions against the government, as well as broader sanctions that have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

The HRC established the FFM in September 2019 and renewed its mandate for an additional two years in October 2020.

On 3 November 2021 the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC signed a Letter of Understanding with the Maduro government, declaring the opening of an investigation on 16 December.

NECESSARY ACTION:

Venezuelan authorities must end the systematic persecution, criminalization and harassment of actual or alleged opponents and civil society. The government should also commit to security sector reform, fully dissolve the FAES and ensure impartial investigations of all serious violations and abuses of human rights committed by various state agents and agencies, including at the highest level. The government should grant the FFM unrestricted access to the country and implement its recommendations, including by overhauling the judiciary. The UN Security Council should invite the FFM to brief the Council on necessary action to ensure accountability for ongoing crimes against humanity.

States should actively push for renewed negotiations between the government and the wider opposition and exert diplomatic pressure to ensure the government commits to system-wide reform.

Complementary to the ICC’s investigation, other states should consider taking legal action, including under universal jurisdiction, against those responsible for possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela.

GET INVOLVED

Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on R2P news and alerts

Follow us on social media

CONTACT US

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA

Phone: +1 212-817-1929 | info@globalr2p.org
R2P Resources & Statements