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UN Human Rights Commission warns of possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela


Geneva statements followed by report on deterioration of democracy in the country.

Back-to-back reports, including one from the United Nations, have called out the government of Venezuela for human rights and other abuses.

On Monday, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of possible “crimes against humanity” in Venezuela.

“My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said at the opening of the 36th session of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, meeting in Geneva. Zeid called for an international probe, warning that the government of Nicolas Maduro may crush democratic institutions and critical voices.

Crushing democratic institutions is already well underway, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Commission of Jurists, a 65-year-old organization that seeks to protect human rights through the rule of law. The ICJ asserts that the Venezuelan Supreme Court has ceased to act as an independent court upholding the rule of law but has become an arm of the government’s executive branch. It called on the U.N. Human Rights Commission to take action.

In rulings on March 27 and 28, 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) “delivered a blow to the rule of law, effectively claiming legislative powers for itself, depriving the National Assembly of its constitutional powers and granting sweeping arbitrary powers to the executive, the ICJ said.

At the UN meeting in Geneva, Zeid said an investigation by his office had found widespread use of “criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture.”

The Venezuelan foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza Montserrat, speaking at the same meeting, insisted that Zeid stop his office’s “aggressions” towards Venezuela. He criticized the council for using “human rights as a political weapon.”

Reuters explained that Maduro denies accusations of a power grab, saying his actions, which include the creation of a body of elected representatives to rewrite the constitution, aim to restore peace after months of protests and violence.

But that new body, the Constituent Assembly, has granted itself law-making powers. It “acts as a body outside of the rule of law. It is able to legislate and create law and new regulations in the country without accountability,” Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary-General, charged.

The World Factbook, published by the Central Intelligence Agency, says that under former president Hugo Chavez and Maduro, president since 2013, the executive branch has “exercised increasingly authoritarian control over other branches of government. At the same time, democratic institutions have deteriorated, freedoms of expression and the press have been curtailed, and political polarization has grown. The ruling party’s economic policies have expanded the state’s role in the economy through expropriations of major enterprises, strict currency exchange and price controls that discourage private sector investment and production, and overdependence on the petroleum industry for revenues, among others.”

In recent months, violent street protests have claimed some 130 lives.

The ICJ report is titled “The Supreme Court of Justice: an instrument of executive power.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis said on the final day of his visit to Colombia, “I wish to assure my prayer for each of the countries of Latin America, and in a special way for neighboring Venezuela. I express my closeness to each of the sons and daughters of that beloved nation, as well as to those who have found a place of welcome in this Colombian land. From this city, home to human rights, I appeal for the rejection of all kinds of violence in political life and for a solution to the serious crisis that is going on and is affecting everyone, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged in society.”

On his flight back to Rome, the Pope told reporters, “I believe that the Holy See has spoken strongly and clearly about the crisis.” The problem is a very difficult one, he said, saying that the biggest concern is the humanitarian crisis, “which we must help to resolve in any case.”

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