Venezuela has been called before the UN Committee Against Torture to respond to allegations of widespread abuse perpetrated by security forces -- an event that could further undermine the credibility of a struggling regime penetrated by organized crime.
Following reports presented by Amnesty International and other NGOs, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) is examining whether Venezuela complies with the anti-torture convention to which the country is a signatory, reported El Universal (see video).
The reports include cases of more than 3,000 people who allegedly suffered abuses after being detained during anti-government protests earlier this year. According to CAT rapporteur Jens Modvig, these ranged from denial of medical care to sexual violence.
Another expert present during the meeting noted that only 12 public officials have been convicted of human rights violations in Venezuela over the past decade, in spite of the fact that there have been over 5,000 complaints.
CAT officials also questioned alleged security force collaboration with unofficial armed collectives, and apparent issues with anti-torture legislation enacted by Venezuela last year. These included a lack of clarity regarding whether citizens' human rights are protected before they have officially been taken into custody and a lack of independence for the country's torture prevention committee, reported EFE.
Finally, CAT addressed the troubling conditions in Venezuela's prisons, including extreme overcrowding and excessive use of pretrial detention.
Venezuela responded that "The Bolivarian Revolution respects everybody's human rights," and the Public Ministry called claims by NGOs and lawyers "unfounded."
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Although Venezuela's commitment to human rights has long been questioned by international observers, this is the first time in over a decade that the country has been called in front of the UN's anti-torture body. The event represents a blow to President Nicolas Maduro, who has attempted to paint the political opposition as "fascists" and "killers." Amid waning support for the regime, the administration must now justify its severe actions against protesters to an international audience.
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The CAT hearing also places the spotlight on Venezuela's security forces, shortly after the country's Interior Minister and the leadership of the investigative police (CICPC) were replaced following a case in which five members of armed collectives were killed in an alleged confrontation with CICPC officials. There have been frequent accusations of extrajudicial killings and kidnappings committed by Venezuela's police, while high-ranking members of the military are thought to be deeply involved in the drug trade.
The torture allegations also highlight the extreme emphasis the regime has place on targeting political opponents, while failing to adequately address citizen security problems, shortcomings in the judicial system, and an evolving organized crime landscape.