Mérida, 6th November 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Today Venezuela was questioned by the U.N. Committee Against Torture about alleged abuses committed by security forces during the period of acute opposition unrest earlier this year.
From February – May the South American country was rocked by an opposition movement called “The Exit” which saw protests, riots and militant street barricades bring several cities to a standstill. 43 people were killed and around 900 wounded, including members of security forces and both pro- and anti-government civilians, before opposition activities lost momentum and petered out.
The political opposition and several local NGOs claim that during this period there were cases of torture or cruel treatment by security forces which have not been investigated or brought to justice. Most of the over 3,000 people arrested during this time were released shortly afterwards, and Venezuelan authorities state that both members of security forces and civilians suspected of violent or unlawful acts have been investigated and charged accordingly.
Ahead of the U.N. Committee Against Torture session, certain local and regional NGOs submitted reports against the Venezuelan government for consideration by Committee members.
In a press note yesterday, Amnesty International, the Venezuelan Penal Forum, and the Venezuelan Prison Observatory, among others, said, “In the contexts of protests for and against the government, the excessive use of force by the forces of order has been evident, and dozens of protesters have denounced being the object of torture and cruel treatment”.
In the session today, members of the Committee and participating NGOs fielded questions to Venezuelan authorities, not only on this issue, but also on the country’s judicial, policing and human rights protection systems in general.
The National Human Rights Commission was accused of bias as 6 of its 13 members are government representatives. Meanwhile the prison system was criticised for overcrowding and delays in judicial processing, while the independence of judges was also questioned.
Venezuelan authorities were also asked by the Commission’s relator on the country, Jens Modvig, if there existed more cases of alleged abuses in the Feb – May period than the 183 HR violations and 166 cases of cruel treatment officially registered for investigation.
Tomorrow representatives of the Venezuelan government will give a formal response to the questions and accusations posed today. However Jose Vicente Rangel, the Vice Minister of Interior Policy and Citizen Security, stated in the session that “The Bolivarian Revolution is an absolute guarantee of the enjoyment of human rights for all”.
Citing the Special Law to Prevent and Punish Torture, he continued, “In our country we count upon a humanist policing and security model that has unrestricted respect for human rights”.
The U.N. Session comes two weeks after Venezuelan authorities rejected the recommendation of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to release jailed hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
While the Commissioner agreed with pro-Lopez lobbyists that the Harvard-educated former mayor was arbitrarily detained, a government statement said he was being held under due judicial process and that the U.N. official’s stance was biased and uninformed. Lopez has been in pre-trail detention since February, and is accused of instigating and perpetrating violent acts at a protest in Caracas, kick-starting the “Exit” movement.
Meanwhile yesterday a U.S. Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, stated his hope that his party’s gains in the U.S. midterm elections would put more pressure on the Obama administration to approve harsher sanctions against Venezuela. In July the U.S. government applied a travel ban sanction to 20 unnamed high ranking Venezuelan officials.
A strident opponent of the country’s Bolivarian government, Rubio has sponsored legislation which would see Venezuelan officials suspected of abuses having their U.S. assets frozen, and would provide more funding to pro-opposition groups in Venezuela. Although the legislation has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Congress, observers consider that President Obama wishes to avoid the diplomatic collision with the rest of the region that such sanctions would provoke.
The Venezuelan government considers U.S. attempts at applying sanctions as an act of foreign intervention which forms part of a wider local and international effort to attack and undermine the Bolivarian project.