CARACAS, VENEZUELA - The United Nations' chief human rights official said Monday that millions of Venezuelans continue to suffer rights violations, including dozens of possible extrajudicial killings carried out by a special police force.
Nongovernmental organizations report that the Special Action police force carried out 57 suspected extrajudicial killings in July alone within Caracas, Michelle Bachelet said in an oral presentation on Venezuela to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bachelet's presentation followed a scathing written report issued in early July that drew a government backlash. It found a "pattern of torture" under the government of President Nicolas Maduro and citing violations like arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
Bachelet's latest presentation noted some areas of progress, while pointing to more cases of human rights violations and declining conditions as more than 4 million Venezuelans have fled a country beset by hyperinflation that leaves monthly minimum wages equal to $2.
While Bachelet said she had called for officials to dismantle the feared Special Action police force, the unit has actually received ongoing support from the highest levels of the government, she said.
Bachelet raised concern that groups that collaborated with her in the earlier report have since come under criticism and threats by senior officials.
"Reprisals for having cooperated with the United Nations are unacceptable," she said. "I urge the authorities to take preventative measures."
Bachelet said she worried about a proposed law criminalizing the activities of human rights organizations that receive money from abroad, which could further erode democracy in Venezuela, a once wealthy oil nation.
Areas of progress
Highlighting advances, Bachelet said a member of her team recently was allowed to visit the Ramo Verde Military Center - a prison commonly used to hold what opposition leaders consider political prisoners - with an agreement for visits to come. The government also has released 83 people whose arrests human rights observers considered arbitrary, she said, adding that officials have agreed to consider another 27 cases, expecting action soon.
The only way to overcome Venezuela's human rights crisis is for Maduro's government and the opposition led by National Assembly President Juan Guaido to return to negotiations overseen by Norway, Bachelet said, and renewed her offer to support all such efforts.
Maduro's government didn't immediately respond to Bachelet's latest comments, but officials rejected earlier criticism as biased and demanded she make corrections.