Venezuela: Bachelet condemns killings, urges restraint and calls for dialogue to halt spiralling crisis

GENEVA (25 January 2019) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday condemned, and called for effective investigations into, the violence that has led to a number of deaths and injuries during this week’s protests in Venezuela. She urged all sides to conduct immediate talks to defuse the increasingly incendiary atmosphere.

At least 20 people are reported by credible local sources to have died after allegedly being shot by security forces or members of pro-government armed groups during demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday, with many others reported injured by bullets, buckshot and rubber bullets.

"Any violent incident resulting in death or injury should be subject to an independent and impartial investigation to find out whether there was excessive use of force by the authorities, or if crimes have been committed by members of armed groups, whether pro-government or otherwise," said Bachelet. "I am extremely concerned that the situation in Venezuela may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences."

The High Commissioner said her staff have also received reports of large-scale detention of demonstrators – well over 350 in total, including 320 on 23 January alone – and have also been collecting information about raids on property in some of the poorest areas of Caracas where at least 180 protests have taken place during the course of the week. 

Bachelet warned that it is vital to prevent a repetition of the patterns of repression documented by the UN Human Rights Office in 2017,* in particular extrajudicial killings, widespread arbitrary detentions, restrictions to freedom of assembly and expression, and indiscriminate house raids and attacks.

She urged the Venezuelan authorities, especially the security forces, to exercise restraint and respect everyone’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and reminded them that "excessive, disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force is clearly and unequivocally prohibited under international law."

She also called for respect for due process in the case of all those detained, and the immediate release of anyone arrested for exercising their human rights.

The High Commissioner urged the country’s political leaders to begin immediate talks with the aim of defusing the situation and finding a practical long-term solution to the country’s entrenched social, political and economic crisis. She said it is vital the authorities refrain from closing any remaining avenue of dialogue by prosecuting political and social leaders, including members of the National Assembly.

"More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country, many millions of others are living in a totally miserable conditions," said Bachelet. "What more is needed before the political leadership put their people’s well-being ahead of their own interests? This is, at heart a crisis of governance, and it is the responsibility of the country’s leaders to put an end to this disastrous situation."