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Venezuela: new UN report details responsibilities for crimes against humanity to repress dissent and highlights situation in remotes mining areas

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20 September 2022
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Venezuela’s military and civilian State intelligence agencies function as well-coordinated and effective structures in the implementation of a plan orchestrated at the highest levels of the government to repress dissent through crimes against humanity, finds a UN report released today.

In this report, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV) details the roles and contributions of various individuals at different levels of the chains of command within these agencies and urges authorities to investigate their responsibilities and prosecute accordingly.

“Our investigations and analysis show that the Venezuelan State relies on the intelligence services and its agents to repress dissent in the country. In doing so, grave crimes and human rights violations are being committed, including acts of torture and sexual violence. These practices must stop immediately, and the individuals responsible must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law,” said Marta Valiñas, Chair of the UN FFMV.

In a separate report, the FFMV furthermore highlights the situation in the country’s southern Bolívar state, where State and non-State actors have committed a range of violations and crimes against local populations in gold mining areas.

The Mission based its findings in both reports on 245 confidential interviews, both in-person and remotely, via secure telephone or video connections, including with victims, their family members, and former employees of the security and intelligence services. It furthermore analyzed case files and other legal documents. Due to a continued lack of access to Venezuelan territory since its establishment in 2019, the Mission conducted visits to areas along the country's borders.

“Venezuela is still facing a profound human rights crisis, and our reports today highlight just two aspects of this situation. We urge the international community to continue to follow developments in Venezuela closely and to monitor whether credible progress is being made in advancing justice, accountability, and respect for human rights,” said Valiñas.

Targeted repression by State intelligence agencies

In its past reporting, the Mission had highlighted the roles of the two State military and civilian intelligence services — respectively, the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN)— in committing human rights violations since 2014, in the context of targeting real or perceived Government opponents. The Mission determined that some of these violations amount to crimes against humanity.

The current report provides a more detailed understanding of the role of individuals at different levels in the chains of command of both agencies in the implementation of a plan orchestrated by President Nicolas Maduro and other high-level individuals to suppress opposition to the Government, including through the commission of extremely grave acts of torture amounting to crimes against humanity.

The Mission has documented 122 cases of victims who were detained by DGCIM, 77 of whom were subjected to torture, sexual violence and/or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Torture was carried out in its Boleíta headquarters in Caracas and in a network of covert detention centres across the country.

SEBIN has tortured or otherwise ill-treated detainees - including opposition politicians, journalists, protesters, and human rights defenders - mainly in the El Helicoide detention centre in Caracas. The Mission has investigated at least 51 cases since 2014. The report details how orders were given by individuals at the highest political levels to lower-ranking officials.

Both SEBIN and DGCIM made extensive use of sexual and gender-based violence to torture and humiliate its detainees.

The Venezuelan authorities have failed to hold perpetrators to account and provide reparations to victims in a context where judicial reforms announced from 2021 have failed to address the justice system´s lack of independence and impartiality. Violations and crimes by SEBIN and DGCIM continue to this day. The same structures, dynamics and practices remain in place, while relevant officials continue to work for the agencies, and in some cases have even been promoted. The Mission's analysis furthermore details how these efforts were put into action by President Maduro and other high-level authorities as part of a deliberate plan by the Government to suppress criticism and opposition.

“The human rights violations by State intelligence agencies, orchestrated at the highest political levels, have taken place in a climate of almost complete impunity. The international community must do everything to ensure that victims’ rights to justice and reparations are guaranteed,” said Francisco Cox, Member of the FFMV Mission.

Human rights abuses and violations in the Arco Minero gold mining region

Facing a crisis in the domestic oil industry, in 2016 the Venezuelan Government established the Arco Minero del Orinoco as a "National Strategic Development Zone" to formalize and extend its control over the mining of gold and other strategic resources, mainly in the southern state of Bolívar. Since then, the area has become heavily militarized, while armed criminal groups continue to operate openly, controlling mines and populations.

The FFMV's report documents how both State and non-State actors have committed human rights violations and crimes against the local population in the struggle for control over mining areas. These include unlawful deprivation of life, disappearances, extortion, corporal punishment, and sexual and gender-based violence. Authorities not only failed to prevent and investigate such abuses, but the Mission has received information indicating collusion between State and NSA actors in parts of Bolívar state.

In the state’s southern Gran Sabana municipality, the Mission has documented in depth several cases where State forces have attacked indigenous populations, committing a range of violations. These include clashes following the opposition’s attempt to move humanitarian aid into Gran Sabana from Brazil in 2019, when state forces committed arbitrary deprivations of life and subjected indigenous persons to torture.

“The situation in Bolívar state and other mining areas is deeply troubling. Local populations, including indigenous peoples, are caught in the violent battle between State and armed criminal groups for the control of gold. Our report highlights the need for further investigation of this region which is, paradoxically, an almost forgotten area of the country that at the same time generates large amounts of both licit and illicit wealth from minerals,” said Patricia Tappatá Valdez, Member of the FFMV.

/ENDS/

Note to editors

In September 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV) through resolution 42/25 for one year to assess alleged human rights violations committed since 2014. In October 2020, the Human Rights Council extended the FFMV's mandate for an additional two years, until September 2022, through its resolution 45/20.

In September 2020, the Mission presented its first report detailing cases of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence, committed by Venezuelan state actors since 2014. In its second report, presented in September 2021, the FFMV focused its investigation on the justice system's response to the human rights violations and crimes documented by the Mission.

Two topics were the focus of the FFMV's third report:

(a) Crimes against humanity committed through the State's intelligence services: structures and individuals involved in the implementation of the plan to repress opposition to the Government, and (b) The human rights situation in the Arco Minero del Orinoco region and other areas of the Bolívar state.

Human Rights Council's resolutions urged Venezuelan authorities to cooperate fully with the Mission, to grant it immediate, full, and unfettered access to the country, and to provide it with all the information necessary to fulfill its mandate. Three years into its mandate, the Venezuelan government still has neither permitted FFMV members to visit the country nor responded to any of the nine letters the Mission sent between September 2021 and September 2022.

The Mission will present the 2022 report's findings and recommendations to the Council at an interactive dialogue session on 26 September 2022.

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