U.N. decries excessive force in
Venezuela's crackdown on protests
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[August 09, 2017]
By Brian Ellsworth and Stephanie Nebehay
CARACAS/GENEVA (Reuters) - The United
Nations slammed Venezuela on Tuesday for the use of excessive force
against anti-government protesters and said security forces and
pro-government groups were believed responsible for the deaths of at
least 73 demonstrators since April.
Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of "the breakdown of
the rule of law" in the South American OPEC member country," U.N. High
Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement.
"The responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording
lies at the highest levels of the Government," he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Venezuela's leftist government to
the scathing criticism from the U.N., which said preliminary findings
from an investigation conducted in June and July "paint a picture of
widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary
detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela."
But the government has increasingly turned a blind eye to critics
overseas as it steps up a crackdown on street protests against President
Nicolas Maduro and seeks to consolidate his leftist rule.
As part of that effort, the nation's pro-government Supreme Court
sentenced an opposition mayor to 15 months in jail on Tuesday, saying he
had defied an order to ensure that protests in his district of the
capital Caracas did not disrupt transit through the area.
In addition to ordering the immediate arrest of Ramon Muchacho of
Chacao, a wealthy district that has been the epicenter of four months of
protests, the court said he had been fired.
"We are being condemned for doing our job, for guaranteeing the
legitimate right to peaceful protest and the right of all Venezuelans to
exercise their civil and political rights," Muchacho said in an email
message on Tuesday to his supporters. "The coming hours will be
difficult for me."
Muchacho had not attended court hearings related to his case and
location was unknown as of Tuesday afternoon. The order to jail him came
just days after the installation of Venezuela's new constituent
assembly, an all-powerful legislative body run by Maduro's Socialist
On Saturday the assembly removed dissident chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega
from office and ordered her to stand trial. Socialist Party leaders have
said Ortega failed to help control opposition protests, which have left
more than 125 people dead.
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Demonstrators block a street at a rally against Venezuela's
President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela August
8, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
The Supreme Court has issued injunctions against nearly a dozen
mayors of opposition municipalities ordering them to prevent
protesters from erecting barricades blocking streets and to remove
them if they were put in place.
Critics say such cases are a violation of due process rights carried
out by a Supreme Court that has ruled almost universally in favor of
the Socialist Party.
The court is hearing a similar case against the mayor of another
Caracas district, David Smolansky of El Hatillo. Intelligence agents
last month arrested Alfredo Ramos, the mayor of the city of
Barquisimeto, on accusations that he violated the same order.
Maduro has promised the assembly will bring peace to the country,
and help end an acute economic crisis marked by shortages of food
and other basic goods, but the opposition says it is aimed at
consolidating a dictatorship.
The U.N. said a full report on its finding about Venezuela would be
issued at the end of this month. But according to the preliminary
findings, Venezuela's security forces were allegedly responsible for
the deaths of at least 46 protesters between April and July 31 while
pro-government armed groups known as "colectivos" were linked to 27.
"It is unclear who the perpetrators in the remaining deaths may be,"
"While no official data is available on the number of detentions,
reliable estimates suggest that between April 1, when the mass
demonstrations began, and 31 July, more than 5,051 people have been
arbitrarily detained. More than 1,000 reportedly remain in
detention," the U.N. statement said.
(Editing by W Simon and Tom Brown)
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