| December 03, 2020 06:30 AM


Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro’s agents have used rape and sexual assault to punish dissidents, according to an international report that U.S. officials hope will spur increased sanctions on the regime.

“It’s a real indictment of the Maduro regime,” State Department special representative Elliott Abrams, the lead diplomat for the Venezuela crisis, told the Washington Examiner. “An indictment like this … should lead any democracy to want to move forward against the regime.”

Abrams’s characterization of the new report from the Organization of American States is a pointed one, as OAS officials want the International Criminal Court to charge Maduro with crimes against humanity. ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has hesitated to do so, despite an unprecedented request for such action from a group of Latin American governments.

“In fact, Mrs. Bensouda’s failure to conclude the preliminary examination and to open a formal investigation into the situation in Venezuela is as stunning as it is inexplicable because the lengthy delay has occurred despite the situation meeting all the relevant criteria that should have enabled a faster review,” OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s team argued in a survey of human rights abuses in Venezuela.

The report, released Wednesday, attested to more than 18,000 extrajudicial killings by the Venezuelan military and Maduro-aligned gangs since 2014, along with “724 instances of enforced disappearance” in 2018 and 2019 alone. The OAS also put a spotlight on “192 cases of sexual assault and rape of detainees” that took place prior to 2018.

“The actual number is likely higher due to underreporting,” the report said.

One case involves an attorney who told United Nations officials that he was seized while returning from a court hearing and “first beaten with a pipe … then stripped naked and raped by the officer.” His experience was part of a trend, according to the OAS.

“Credible sources have reported a continuing pattern of sexual assault and rape against detainees beyond 2018,” the new report states. “Sexual violence has also been used as a method of torture.”

OAS officials aren’t the only ones who have chronicled such abuses by the Maduro regime. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s top human rights watchdog, issued a report in 2019 that documented more than 5,300 extrajudicial killings, a finding that Abrams hoped at the time would spur Western European nations to blacklist the abusers.

“We thought at various points this year that they would impose more sanctions than they did,” he said in the interview. “And we would certainly like to see that happen.”

OAS officials argued that Bensouda’s failure to pursue the case aggressively contributes indirectly to the repression.

“The very slow pace of the review appears utterly unaffected by the widespread, severe, and devastating crimes being committed,” the report states. “As a result, the regime has been emboldened to commit more crimes, in the belief it can act with total impunity.”

Bensouda is herself the target of U.S. sanctions imposed in September in response to her investigation of whether “war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The United States has never signed the treaty that established the ICC.

European Union officials have been stymied by internal disagreement over whether to impose sanctions, a decision that requires unanimity, but the bloc’s powers to punish human rights abuses are expanding. The EU is expected to unveil a so-called European Magnitsky Act later this month, modeled on U.S. legislation and named for the Russian whistleblower who died in prison in 2009 after exposing a state-sanctioned tax fraud.

And the United Kingdom, fresh off the departure from the EU, has adopted its own Magnitsky law, Abrams noted, which could give London an even freer hand to target Maduro.

“We would hope that this report would galvanize more Latin American activity and more EU activity,” Abrams said. “The facts are very clear about human rights abuses and about the humanitarian situation and the responsibility of the Maduro regime for that situation.”

Source: Washington Examiner