GENEVA (1 July 2019) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday she is deeply concerned by the death in custody in Venezuela of retired navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo, allegedly after he had been tortured. She stressed that it is imperative the Venezuelan authorities conduct a prompt, thorough, effective, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his death.
Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo was detained on 21 June by unidentified armed men and his whereabouts were unknown for seven days. Given that his relatives and lawyers were not informed of his whereabouts despite repeated requests, his case may also constitute an enforced disappearance, prohibited under international law.
On 28 June, he was brought before a military tribunal by members of the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), along with four other military officers and two former security officers accused of plotting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro Moros. According to his lawyer, Captain Acosta Arévalo was brought before the judge in a wheelchair, was unable to speak, and showed clear signs of having been tortured. The judge sent him to a military hospital, where he died in the early hours of 29 June. Despite numerous requests, neither his family nor his lawyer have been given access to his body.
“I am shocked by the alleged torture of Captain Acosta Arévalo, and that his treatment in custody may have been the cause of his death. I remind the Venezuelan authorities that they are responsible for the life, and the physical and psychological integrity of all people deprived of their liberty,” Bachelet said.
“I urge the authorities to conduct an in-depth investigation – including an autopsy meeting international standards – that is both independent and transparent. This is essential to shed light not only on what happened to him, but in order to facilitate bringing to justice those responsible for his death,” Bachelet said.
While she welcomed the swift action by the Attorney-General’s Office in opening an investigation into Captain Acosta Arévalo’s death, and noted that two members of the DGCIM have been charged with first-degree murder, she regretted that the allegations of torture do not appear to be included in the charges.
“I also call on the Venezuelan authorities to allow the other six military and former security officers detained along with Captain Acosta Arévalo to receive visits from their lawyers and relatives, to ensure they are treated with humanity and dignity and are protected from torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” Bachelet said. “Structural measures should also be urgently adopted to prevent the recurrence of torture and other ill-treatment of people held in custody by the State.”