The Geneve Council expresses its strong condemnation of the intensifying efforts to stifle democratic freedoms in Venezuela. These disconcerting developments have been underscored by a U.N.-endorsed panel’s investigation into human rights violations in the South American nation.
In a recent report, the international fact-finding mission, authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council, has revealed alarming tactics employed by the Venezuelan government to undermine democratic principles, coinciding with President Nicolás Maduro’s looming reelection contest next year.
The Geneve Council stands in solidarity with the findings of this mission, which has unveiled a significant shift in government strategies since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift marked the culmination of mass opposition protests and the subsequent widespread arrests and torture of demonstrators.
The report highlights that Venezuelan authorities have now increasingly targeted specific members of civil society, including politicians, labor leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, and others perceived as opponents. These individuals have endured various forms of repression, encompassing detention, surveillance, threats, defamatory campaigns, and arbitrary criminal proceedings on charges related to hate speech or terrorism, as exhaustively detailed in the report.
Patricia Tappatá Valdez, a distinguished member of the fact-finding mission, expressed grave concern, noting, “By criminalizing participation in legitimate activities, the government is silencing and creating a chilling effect on anyone who might consider participating in any activity that could be perceived as critical of the government.”
The mission, comprising three esteemed experts, meticulously documented a disturbing pattern of human rights violations, including at least five arbitrary executions, 14 short-term enforced disappearances, and 58 arbitrary detentions, all occurring between January 2020 and August 2023. Additionally, the report brings to light 28 cases of torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees, with 19 involving incidents of sexual and gender-based violence within the same period.
Notably, as of the time of this report, the Venezuelan government had neither responded to requests for comment from the Associated Press nor engaged directly with the fact-finding mission, which has been denied permission to enter the country.
It is crucial to emphasize that while the mission does not possess judicial powers, the evidence it has compiled could potentially serve as the basis for action by the International Criminal Court or any country invoking “universal jurisdiction,” such as Argentina, to prosecute alleged crimes against humanity. The mission has previously decried “crimes against humanity” within Maduro’s Venezuela.
This report comes to light just over a month before a primary election, organized by factions of the Venezuelan opposition, aimed at selecting a candidate to challenge President Maduro in the 2024 election. The experts have underscored the government’s decision to bar three potential candidates—Henrique Capriles, Maria Corina Machado, and Freddy Superlano—from participating in this crucial electoral process.
Venezuela’s government has a history of sidelining adversaries by prohibiting them from holding public office, not only in presidential contests but also in other elections. For instance, in 2021, Freddy Superlano, who was leading in the gubernatorial polls, was retroactively banned from participating despite not having been declared the winner.
Maria Corina Machado, known for her conservative, free-market stance and seen as a radical figure even among the right-leaning opposition for her unwillingness to negotiate with the Maduro government, has emerged as the leading candidate. Her ban, issued by the Comptroller General on allegations of fraud and tax violations, was dated just three days after she entered the primary race.
Tappatá Valdez, in her remarks, underscored the lack of independence of government institutions and the concerted efforts of some of them, including the Comptroller General, the Ombudsman Office, and the National Electoral Council, which collectively contribute to the erosion of civic and democratic space in Venezuela.
Venezuela has grappled with a profound political, economic, and humanitarian crisis over the past decade, compelling at least 7.3 million people to migrate and rendering essential commodities unaffordable for those who remain.
In 2018, President Maduro was reelected after judges barred his main opponents from participating, a move that most opposition parties refused to acknowledge. Instead, they challenged Maduro’s rule by establishing an interim government led by Juan Guaidó, supported by the United States and numerous nations that ceased recognizing Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
The U.S. government imposed substantial sanctions on Maduro’s administration, cutting off its access to U.S. banks and severely impacting the nation’s oil exports, all in the hope of prompting regime change. However, Maduro’s government remained resilient and resisted these sanctions with support from countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
Juan Guaidó’s claim to the presidency of Venezuela eventually waned, leading him to relocate to the United States in April, citing escalating safety threats to himself and his family.
The Geneve Council calls upon the international community to take note of the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and to continue monitoring and addressing these grave violations of human rights and democratic principles. We urge all stakeholders to work towards restoring democracy, the rule of law, and the protection of fundamental rights in Venezuela.