Venezuela’s government was accused of committing crimes against humanity in a report published Wednesday by a United Nations-backed fact-finding mission.
After investigating 223 cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture, and reviewing an additional 2,891 to corroborate patterns of violations and crimes, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela found that the Venezuelan government, as well as other state agents and groups working with them, had committed “egregious violations.”
“The Mission found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which – including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture – amount to crimes against humanity,” said Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the UN mission.
“Far from being isolated acts, these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to State policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials.”
The 411-page report is the first published by the UN mission. Commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, it includes 48 in-depth case studies and expands on the extrajudicial executions, politically motivated detentions and torture, as well as protest-related violence.
CNN has reached out to the Venezuelan government for comment but has yet to hear back. However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has repeatedly criticized the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as “biased.”
The report singles out two Venezuelan security forces as being responsible for nearly two-thirds of all extrajudicial killings – the Scientific, Criminal and Criminological Investigator Corps (CICPC) and the Special Action Forces (FAES) of the National Bolivarian Police (PNB).
CNN has previously reported on the Modus operandi of FAES special forces. Dressed in black uniforms and sometimes wearing Halloween-style masks, they show up in large numbers in some of Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods – the barrios – and target young men seemingly at random.
According to the UN report, superiors would grant FAES officers a “green light to kill” and a FAES training video authenticated by the UN mission shows officers being encouraged to “kill criminals without compassion.” Officials with the PNB/FAES also told the UN mission that it was common practice to cover up killings by planting weapons to simulate “confrontations” – a process officers referred to as planting “seeds.”
“High-ranking officials had effective command and control over the perpetrators and knowledge of their actions but failed to prevent or repress the violations,” said Marta Valiñas. “The killings appear part of a policy to eliminate unwanted members of society under the cover of combating crime.”
The UN report calls for FAES to be dismantled and for those responsible for its actions to be held accountable. On their official Instagram account, FAES has posted repeated denials of news stories alleging abuse by the officers. The account also posts footage of their officers carrying out arrests and “community services” such as food distribution.
In addition to extrajudicial killings, the UN mission also investigated politically motivated repression and torture allegedly by Venezuelan intelligence agencies, namely the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and the General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence (DGCIM). The UN mission found that while SEBIN targeted political dissidents, human rights activists, and others perceived to be against the government, the DGCIM targeted military personnel and associated civilians allegedly involved in rebellions or coup attempts.
According to the report, victims were held outside of the official prison system and due process was flouted: they were charged with spurious crimes and evidence was planted. Detention often included “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” and a former SEBIN director told the UN mission that a “cultural behavior” of torture existed at the intelligence service.
Violence in Venezuela is not restricted to state security forces, especially in recent years as the government began to increasingly rely on armed civilian groups – known as colectivos – to help maintain public order. The report found that authorities failed to intervene when protesters were killed by these groups.
“The violations must stop. And impunity must end. Venezuelan authorities must immediately carry out prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into the violations and crimes, bringing perpetrators to account and providing justice for victims,” Valiñas said, calling for other international bodies, like the International Criminal Court, to consider legal action against those responsible for the crimes identified by the UN mission. “Victims must have full redress for the harm they suffered.”