Venezuela

1 June 2022
Risk Level: Current Crisis
More than 6 million people have left the country since 2014

Ongoing systematic human rights violations in Venezuela may amount to crimes against humanity.

BACKGROUND:

Venezuelan state agents are committing systematic human rights violations and abuses in an apparent attempt to silence dissent. Since 2014 Venezuelan security and intelligence forces have perpetrated arbitrary detention, short-term enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment and sexual and gender-based violence with impunity. Various state agents have also allegedly perpetrated thousands of extrajudicial killings in the name of combatting crime. According to the Venezuelan human rights project, Lupa Por la Vida, at least 1,414 killings were carried out in 2021 alone. The government has also increased its harassment and persecution against civil society, independent media, and human rights and humanitarian actors.

In September 2020 the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela warned that patterns of violations and abuses since at least 2014 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 atrocities. Despite efforts by the government to minimize international scrutiny, the FFM warned on 18 March that domestic investigations remain limited in scope and only target low-level perpetrators.

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

Patterns of possible atrocity crimes first emerged in 2014 when mass protests erupted in response to insecurity, hyperinflation and a lack of essential services. Security forces reacted with disproportionate force, torture and sexual violence. State agents responded with similar patterns of violations and abuses during subsequent mass protests, including in 2019 when the start of President Nicolás Maduro’s second term sparked an intense political struggle with the leader of the then opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaidó. More than 6 million people have left the country since 2014 in what has become the largest migration crisis in Latin America.

ANALYSIS

Extrajudicial killings appear to be part of a systematic strategy to reinforce social control. While the number of killings reduced following the publication of the FFM’s first report, state security forces continue to target civilians with various abuses. The government continues to take steps to restrict civic space and limit the operations of human rights defenders and other civil society. Government-linked media outlets play a key role in state repression and persecution.

The limited actions taken by the national judicial system emboldens state agents to continue perpetrating possible crimes against humanity, including politically motivated arbitrary detentions and torture. The ICC’s decision to open an investigation is an important step in advancing accountability efforts in light of the government’s unwillingness to investigate high-level perpetrators. Continued independent, impartial scrutiny, including by the FFM, remains essential to ensuring accountability and preventing further atrocities.

For the past eight years Venezuela has faced a humanitarian catastrophe as a result of endemic corruption, economic collapse, erosion of the rule of law, 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, the proliferation of non-state armed actors and systematic abuses against civilians.

The government is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect all Venezuelans.

ANALYSIS:

Extrajudicial killings appear to be part of a systematic strategy to reinforce social control. While the number of killings reduced following the publication of the FFM’s first report, state security forces continue to target civilians with various abuses. The government continues to take steps to restrict civic space and limit the operations of human rights defenders and other civil society. Government-linked media outlets play a key role in state repression and persecution.

The limited actions taken by the national judicial system emboldens state agents to continue perpetrating possible crimes against humanity, including politically motivated arbitrary detentions and torture. The ICC’s decision to open an investigation is an important step in advancing accountability efforts in light of the government’s unwillingness to investigate high-level perpetrators. Continued independent, impartial scrutiny, including by the FFM, remains essential to ensuring accountability and preventing further atrocities.

For the past eight years Venezuela has faced a humanitarian catastrophe as a result of endemic corruption, economic collapse, erosion of the rule of law, 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, the proliferation of non-state armed actors and systematic abuses against civilians.

The government 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 United States 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.

After Venezuela requested the deferral of the ICCs investigation into crimes against humanity on 15 April 2022, the Chief Prosecutor announced he would seek approval from the Pre-Trial Chamber to proceed with his investigation. A Memorandum of Understanding, signed with the government of President Maduro in November 2021, remains intact.

NECESSARY ACTION:

Venezuelan authorities must end the systematic repression of actual or alleged opponents and civil society. The government should also commit to genuine and comprehensive security sector reform and ensure impartial investigations of all serious violations and abuses, including at the highest level. The government should grant the FFM unrestricted access to the country and implement its recommendations.

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. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC and his investigative team should engage with survivors and civil society organizations to pursue victim-centered accountability processes.

During its upcoming September session, the HRC should renew the mandate of the FFM in full.

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