HAVANA TIMES – In Venezuela, extrajudicial killings continue, access to basic services is deteriorating, wages are below one dollar per month, and many inhabitants find themselves forced to emigrate, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reported on March 11th.
“We continue to receive reports of extrajudicial killings continuing in the context of security operations. In early January, at least 14 individuals were allegedly killed during an operation conducted in the Caracas neighborhood of La Vega…,” Bachelet said.
The official gave a brief speech before the UN Human Rights Council, giving an update on the report she wrote up in September 2020, which recognized that 2000 people had lost their lives in operations executed by security forces.
On Monday March 10th, Portuguese lawyer Marta Valiñas, chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, reported at least 200 extrajudicial killings so far in 2021.
The Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Arreaza rejected the mission and Valiñas’ report, as it “attempts to stunt the fluid cooperation efforts established with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Bachelet recalled announcements by the Venezuelan government about police reform and asked, “for prompt and independent investigations to ensure accountability, prevent other similar occurrences, and put an end to this practice.”
Regarding another aspect in the report, she said that since September, “access to basic services like medical assistance, water, gas, food, petrol, has continued to be scarcer, further limited by the effect of the pandemic. This contributed to sparking protests, and severely compounded the humanitarian situation.”
“Some associations report that average wage would now be under 1 US dollar per month while the price of the basic food basket is estimated to have increased by 1,800% over the last year.” This leave, “about one third of Venezuelans now be living in a situation of food insecurity.”
The minimum wage in Venezuela, equivalent to 0.5 USD in late February, has been set at 1 USD – plus another dollar’s worth in food coupons – since March. Studies conducted by independent economists maintain that the average monthly income of workers is somewhere between 20-30 USD.
Bachelet also said that, “the tragic death of at least 28 Venezuelan migrants in the Caribbean Sea in December 2020 was another reminder of the tough choices some have to make, and of their increased vulnerability to migrant smuggling and trafficking networks.
At least 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country over the past six years, a country that must now have some 28 million inhabitants, according to United Nations bodies.
Bachelet welcomed “ad-hoc solutions taken to reduce judicial delays and overcrowding in detention centers. A country is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable, including detainees.”
However, she is concerned “by reports of deaths in detention due to malnutrition, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Ensuring sufficient food and healthcare is crucial to preventing other tragic deaths like that of Salvador Franco,” an indigenous activist and opposition member who died in police custody awaiting trial.
The former Chilean president (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) reiterated her call for “the unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained,” and welcomed “newly granted access of my Office to police detention centers,” as her representatives were working with the authorities in Caracas.
She said that within this context, “humanitarian assistance is all the more essential,” so, “I am concerned about recent initiatives to impose undue restrictions on NGOs’ ability to operate, including freezing of assets. I call for the resumption of suspended projects.”
“I am concerned by multiplying signs of shrinking civic space. Since September, my Office has documented at least 66 cases of intimidation, harassment, disqualification and criminalization of journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, union leaders and members or supporters of the opposition, including elected members of the 2015 National Assembly and their relatives.”
“In January alone, at least three search and seizures operations were conducted at the premises of media outlets. To varying degrees, equipment was seized, offices sealed, staff intimidated and broadcast suspended,” she said.
Bachelet said, “this does not help to ease tensions – to the contrary.” She ended her speech by repeating her support for “an inclusive dialogue to address the root causes of the current challenges,” in the South American country.
Venezuela’s representative before the UN in Geneva, Hector Constant, said that his government would give “a detailed response in due time” to Bachelet’s report, which he said, “lacks necessary balance and is based on unverified information.”