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UN cites systematic use of excessive force in Venezuela crackdown on dissent
August 30, 2017 / 9:00 AM / in 2 months

UN cites systematic use of excessive force in Venezuela crackdown on dissent

* U.N. human rights offices issues report on Venezuela crisis

* Finds “systematic use of excessive force” by security forces

* Calls for release of protesters, end to military trials

* 73 of 124 deaths attributed to Maduro forces and pro-government groups

* Some protesters have resorted to violence, Molotov cocktails

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Aug 30 (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday said Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests.

The actions indicated “a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear”, the U.N. human rights office said in a report that called for further investigation.

It called on the government of President Nicolas Maduro to release arbitrarily detained demonstrators and to halt the unlawful use of military courts to try civilians.

More than 1,000 people were believed to remain in custody as of July 31, among more than 5,000 detained in street protests since April, it said. Detainees are often subjected to ill-treatment, in some documented cases amounting to torture.

“Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear,” it said in a report following initial findings issued on Aug 8.

Security forces have used tear gas canisters, motorcycles, water cannons and live ammunition to disperse the protesters, it said.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups are believed to be responsible for the deaths of 73 people since April, while responsibility for the remaining 51 deaths has not been determined, the U.N. report said.

The overall toll of 124 includes nine members of the security forces that the government says were killed through July and four people allegedly killed by protesters, it said.

Some protesters have resorted to violent means, ranging from rocks to sling shots, Molotov cocktails and homemade mortars in protests against Maduro and shortages of food and other basic goods, it said.

Maduro has said Venezuela was the victim of an “armed insurrection” by U.S.-backed opponents seeking to gain control of the OPEC country’s oil wealth.

But as the political crisis deepened, the use of force by security forces has progressively escalated, the report said.

“The generalized and systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters and perceived political opponents indicate that these were not the illegal or rogue acts of isolated officials,” it said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein warned in a statement that amid the economic and social crises and rising political tensions, there was a “grave risk the situation in Venezuela will deteriorate further”.

The government must ensure that investigations begun by the state prosecutor Luisa Ortega -- who was removed from her post this month after accusing Maduro of eroding democracy - continue and are scrupulously impartial, Zeid said. Venezuela held nationwide armed forces exercises on Saturday, calling on civilians to join reserve units to defend against a possible attack after U.S. President Donald Trump warned that a “military option” was on the table for the crisis-hit country. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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