Venezuela

Venezuela forces killed thousands, then covered it up, U.N. says

Opposition supporters protest in Venezuela

Thousands of people left their homes and workplaces in Venezuela on Jan. 30, 2019 in a walkout organized by the opposition to demand that President Nicolás Maduro leave power.
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Thousands of people left their homes and workplaces in Venezuela on Jan. 30, 2019 in a walkout organized by the opposition to demand that President Nicolás Maduro leave power.

GENEVA — Venezuelan special forces have carried out thousands of extrajudicial killings in the past 18 months and then manipulated crime scenes to make it look as if the victims had been resisting arrest, the United Nations said Thursday in a report detailing wide-ranging government abuses targeting political opponents.

Special Action Forces described by witnesses as “death squads” killed 5,287 people in 2018 and another 1,569 by mid-May of this year, in what are officially termed by the Venezuelan government “Operations for the Liberation of the People,” U.N. investigators reported.

Laying out a detailed description of a lawless system of oppression, the report says the actual number of deaths could be much higher. It cites accounts by independent groups who report more than 9,000 killings for “resistance to authority” over the same period.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these killings constitute extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces,” the investigators said.

The report, which U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, delivers a scathing critique of President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government and its handling of Venezuela’s deepening political and economic crisis.

Since 2016, the report says, the government has pursued a strategy “aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the government.”

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry rejected the findings Thursday, saying the report offered a “distorted vision” that ignored most of the information presented by the government to U.N. researchers.

“The analysis is not objective, nor impartial,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, listing what it said were 60 errors. “The negative points are privileged in the extreme and the advances or measures adapted in the area of human rights are ignored or minimized.”

Human rights activists welcomed the spotlight the report is turning onto government repression and abuses. “The government’s reaction shows it hits the right points,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

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