U.N. launches investigations into killings, torture in Venezuela

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Friday to set up an international fact-finding mission to document violations in Venezuela, including torture and thousands of summary executions.

Venezuela’s ambassador Jorge Valero rejected the “hostile resolution” - brought by countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru, which are hosting millions of its refugees - as being part of a campaign led by the United States.

“This small group follows to a T instruments handed to them by the American empire, these are shameful subjects of administration of President Trump,” Valero told the talks.

The launch of the mission “is a tremendous impulse not only to denounce by first and last name, but also to punish those who have violated human rights in Venezuela,” Julio Borges, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s chief diplomat, told reporters in New York.

The Geneva forum adopted the text from the Lima Group by a vote of 19 in favor and seven against with 21 abstentions on the last day of a three-week session. The 12-nation Lima Group and most Western nations have recognized Guaido as the nation’s legitimate interim president.

“We believe serious and credible steps for accountability are needed. And these steps cannot be found inside Venezuela,” said Brazil’s ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo.

The resolution condemned “widespread targeted repression and persecution” through what it called the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, the closing down of media and the erosion of the rule of law.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, in a report issued on July 4 after her visit to the Andean country, said that Venezuelan security forces were sending death squads to murder young men, staging the scenes to make it look like the victims resisted arrest.

Government figures showed that deaths ascribed to criminals resisting arrest numbered 5,287 last year and 1,569 by May 19 this year. The U.N. report said the figures were “shockingly high” and many of them appeared to be extrajudicial executions.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has called the U.N. report a “selective and openly partial vision” about the situation.

The resolution expressed “grave concern at the fact that there have been at least 6,000 killings resulting from security operations in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since January 2018 and that, according to information analyzed by the High Commissioner, many of these killings may constitute extrajudicial executions”.

It condemned arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances carried out by security forces, such as the Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales (Special Action Forces) known as FAES, and pro-government civilian armed groups.

At least 3.7 million Venezuelans are “malnourished” amid shortages of food, vaccines and access to health care, the resolution said.

“The action by the Human Rights Council sends a clear message to the Venezuelan authorities that they will eventually be held accountable for their crimes,” Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; additional repoting by Luc Cohen and Rodrigo Campos in New York; editing by Andrew Heavens, Philippa Fletcher and Jonathan Oatis