GENEVA (AP) — A U.N.-backed committee investigating human rights abuses in Venezuela said Wednesday that the South American country’s government has stepped up efforts to restrict democratic freedoms through threats , surveillance and harassment as President Nicolas Maduro faces a re-election race next year.
The international fact-finding mission authorized by the UN Human Rights Council said the government had changed its tactics since the COVID-19 pandemic, which marked the end of massive opposition protests and the numerous arrests and torture of demonstrators that followed.
Today, the report says, authorities are increasingly repressing some members of civil society, including politicians, union leaders, journalists, human rights defenders and other real or perceived opponents. Targets were subjected to detention, surveillance, threats, smear campaigns and arbitrary criminal prosecutions for hate speech or terrorism, the report said.
“By criminalizing participation in legitimate activities, the government is silencing and creating a chilling effect on anyone who might consider participating in an activity that could be perceived as critical of the government,” said member Patricia Tappatá Valdez. of the fact-finding mission. journalists on Wednesday.
The three-member mission said at least five arbitrary executions, 14 short-term enforced disappearances and 58 arbitrary detentions took place between January 2020 and August 2023. It also documented 28 cases of torture or cruel, inhumane treatment or degrading acts of detainees, 19 of which concerned sexual and gender-based violence, during the same period.
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The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. He also did not respond directly to the mission, which has not received permission to enter the country.
The mission has no judicial powers, but the evidence it has gathered could be used by the International Criminal Court or any country that may apply “universal jurisdiction”, such as Argentina, to prosecute crimes against presumed humanity. The mission has already denounced the “crimes against humanity” perpetrated in Maduro’s Venezuela.
The report comes just over a month before primary elections held by Venezuelan opposition factions to choose a candidate to face Maduro in the 2024 elections. Experts noted that the government had banned three potential candidates from participating. – Henrique Capriles, Maria Corina Machado and Freddy Superlano.
The Venezuelan government often sidelines its opponents by barring them from public office, and not only during presidential elections. Such a ban was used retroactively in 2021 to impeach then-gubernatorial candidate Superlano, when he was ahead of a brother of the late President Hugo Chávez but had not yet been declared the winner.
Machado is a staunch free-market conservative, considered radical even among the right-wing opposition because of her refusal to negotiate with the Maduro government, but she nevertheless emerged as the leading candidate. His ban, issued by the comptroller general for fraud and tax violations, dated just three days after he entered the primary race.
Tappatá Valdez said the lack of independence of government institutions and the concerted efforts of some of them, notably the Comptroller General, the Ombudsman’s Office and the National Electoral Council, “contribute to restricting civic and democratic space” .
Venezuela has plunged into a political, economic and humanitarian crisis over the past decade, pushing at least 7.3 million people to migrate and making food and other basic necessities unaffordable for those who remain.
Maduro was re-elected in 2018 after judges barred his main opponents from competing. But most opposition parties refused to recognize the election results. Instead, they challenged Maduro’s rule by creating an interim government led by Juan Guaidó, backed by the United States and dozens of countries that stopped recognizing Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
The U.S. government also imposed heavy sanctions on Maduro’s government, cutting off access to U.S. banks and crippling the country’s oil exports, in the hope that this would trigger regime change. But Maduro’s government has entrenched itself and resisted sanctions with the support of Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Guaidó’s claims to the presidency of Venezuela failed, and he moved to the United States in April, citing increasing threats to his and his family’s safety.
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