Venezuela: Protesters who suffered burning, sexual abuse and asphyxiation being denied justice - new Amnesty report

Venezuela’s failure to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 43 people and the injury and torture of hundreds of others during protests last year, is giving a green light to more abuses and violence, said Amnesty International in a new report today (24 March).

The 48-page report - The faces of impunity: A year after the protests victims still await justice - examines the stories of those who died or were arbitrarily arrested and tortured in detention during and after the protests that rocked the country between February and July last year. It pieces together victim testimony with photographic evidence, establishing that security forces beat, tortured and even fired live ammunition at protesters

Among the dead and injured were protesters, passers-by and members of the security forces. Of the 43 killed, eight were law-enforcement officials, and of 878 people injured, nearly 300 were security forces personnel. During the protests 3,351 people were detained, many of them arbitrarily, though most were released without charge. However, 1,404 people are facing charges and 25 are still in detention awaiting trial, including opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said:

“People in Venezuela should be able to peacefully protest without fear of losing their lives or being unlawfully detained. Every day that passes without addressing the catalogue of human rights abuses that took place during the protests is another day of heart-breaking injustice for the victims and their families. This must stop.”

Amnesty has had access to the files of five people being held in detention facing charges and concluded that they were arbitrarily detained. Two have since been released pending trial.

Evidence shows that members of the police allowed pro-government armed groups to abuse protesters and passers-by, and even illegally enter people’s houses, including with firearms. Guillermo Sánchez died after he was beaten and shot by a pro-government armed group in La Isabelica (Valencia State) last March. His wife, Ghina Rodríguez, and their two children had to flee the country after they received death threats for demanding justice for his death. They are still waiting for those responsible to be held to account.

The relatives of other victims and their lawyers have also reported being harassed and intimidated because of their campaigns to obtain justice and reparations. Human rights activists who have reported serious abuses have been the target of attacks.

Excessive use of force against protesters and arbitrary arrests have continued since the end of the protests. On 24 February this year, a 14-year-old boy was killed by police in Táchira. The Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested on 19 February, under dubious circumstances.

Rather than address this issue, the Ministry of Defence issued a resolution at the end of January allowing all sections of the armed forces to be deployed in public order operations, including the policing of public protests. They have also authorised the use of firearms in such operations.

Erika Guevara said:

“The use of unnecessary or disproportionate force is precisely what exacerbated the wave of tragic events last year. Instead of adding fuel to the fire by making provisions for the army to take to the streets, the Venezuelan authorities should send an unequivocal message that the use of excessive force will not be tolerated.”

Torture and other ill-treatment while in detention

Amnesty has documented scores of cases of detainees who were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Prisoners have been beaten, burnt, sexually abused, asphyxiated, subjected to electric shocks and threatened with death while in custody.

Wuaddy Moreno was on his way back home from a birthday party when he was arrested on 27 February last year on suspicion of having participated in the protests. Police officers beat and burnt him in the public square in La Grita, Táchira state, before taking him to the police station and later releasing him without charge. The police officers who abused him are still in active service. They also intimidated and harassed Wuaddy and his relatives after they had called for justice.

Thousands detained

Amongst those still behind bars are Leopoldo López, opposition leader, Daniel Ceballos, Mayor of San Cristóbal in Táchira state, and Rosmit Mantilla, LGBTI activist. All three are from the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will). They should all be released.    

Two people who had been arbitrarily detained were released recently. Lawyer Marcelo Crovato was released on 25 February and placed under house arrest; and Christian Holdack was released on bail on 17 March.

Investigations

In the majority of cases, those responsible for the abuses have not faced justice.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office has investigated 238 reports of human rights violations, but only 13 have resulted in charges being brought. According to the Attorney General, 30 police officers have been charged in connection with the deaths of protesters, excessive use of force, and torture and other ill-treatment. So far, three law-enforcement officials have been convicted of ill-treatment and 14 officers have been detained. An arrest warrant has been issued for another officer, but has not been carried out yet. The remaining 12 officers have been granted conditional release.

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