GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights experts said on Wednesday they were looking into 200 killings alleged to have been committed by Venezuelan police forces this year amid concerns about possible summary executions.
Voicing concern about unlawful killings, they said that authorities have failed to release death certificates, charged fees for autopsies, and delivered bodies in a closed casket “with the instruction that it not be opened”.
Venezuela’s delegation dismissed the allegations without addressing them specifically. “Once again the fact-finding mission presents politicised information with no balance and fairness,” said Hector Constant Rosales, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.
Marta Valinas, head of a U.N. fact-finding mission, said the toll of 200 included people killed in a large police operation in the La Vega neighbourhood of the capital, Caracas, from Jan. 7-9.
“Our preliminary investigations indicate that at least some of those killed were victims of extrajudicial executions,” she told the U.N. Human Rights Council.
At least 23 people died over that weekend in a clash between police and gangs, according to news reports and activists, as the government faced international scrutiny for killings by security forces.
Brazil and the United States, speaking at the council in Geneva, raised concerns about what U.S. charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre called the “massacre” in La Vega.
Valinas said that at least 36 people had been unlawfully detained, including journalists, since September and that some arrests appeared to be “politically motivated”.
“The state’s concept of the ‘internal enemy’ appears to be increasingly broad,” she said.
More than 20 people, including health care workers, have been detained for speaking out about the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.
The independent investigators said last September that the government of President Nicolas Maduro has committed systematic human rights violations including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean