Aug. 8 (UPI) — The United Nations said it has found evidence of human rights violations and “widespread and systematic use of excessive force” amid mass anti-government protests in Venezuela.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein deployed a team of human rights officers to monitor the situation in Venezuela between June 6 and July 31.
The human rights investigators conducted about 135 interviews with potential victims of human rights violations and their families, as well as with civil society organizations, journalists, lawyers, doctors and other personnel and groups.
“Interviews conducted remotely by a U.N. human rights team paint a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela,” the U.N. human rights office said in a statement on Tuesday. “The team’s findings also indicate patterns of other human rights violations, including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests.”
The U.N. report comes as Venezuela grapples with months of protests happening nearly every day. Though there have been some demonstrations in support of Maduro’s regime, most have been anti-government protests decrying the country’s economic collapse, what the opposition says is the deterioration of democracy and the violent repression of peaceful protesters at the hands of Venezuelan security forces.
The human rights office reported witnesses said Venezuelan security forces “have systematically used disproportionate force to instill fear, crush dissent, and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions.”
“Witnesses spoke of security forces firing tear gas and buckshot at anti-government protestors without warning. Several of the individuals interviewed said tear gas canisters were used at short range, and marbles, buckshot and nuts and bolts were used as ammunition. Security forces have reportedly also resorted to the use of deadly force against demonstrators,” the U.N. human rights office added.
The political crisis in Venezuela intensified after Maduro’s regime established the controversial Constituent Assembly, a body of lawmakers that has the power to rewrite the Constitution and effectively replaces the country’s parliament.
The Constituent Assembly voted unanimously to remove Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz from office after she said she would investigate potential fraud in the election for Constituent Assembly lawmakers.
The U.N.’s human rights commissioner has called on all Venezuelans to work for a solution to end the violence and to establish meaningful political dialogue.
Zeid said the human rights violations “occurred amid the breakdown of the rule of law in Venezuela, with constant attacks by the Government against the National Assembly and the Attorney General’s Office.”
“Since the wave of demonstrations began in April, there has been a clear pattern of excessive force used against protesters. Several thousand people have been arbitrarily detained, many reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and even torture, while several hundred have been brought before military rather than civilian courts,” Zeid said. “And these patterns show no signs of abating … The responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of government.”