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HRC54: Don’t be fooled by appearance of reform, says Venezuela Fact-Finding Mission

The policy to silence and quash opposition to the Venezuelan government continues, says the UN’s body of experts on Venezuela in its report to the Human Rights Council.

During a press conference yesterday, the UN’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela (the Mission or the FFM) spoke of a ’serious restriction of civic and democratic space in the country’ borne of an ongoing government policy to repress real or perceived opposition. In its report focusing on targeted mechanisms of repression since 2020, the Mission finds:

  • Crimes against humanity have continued. Violations investigated by the Mission that took place between 2020 and 2021, show conduct that the mission previously considered crimes against humanity.
  • While the numbers of arbitrary detentions, for example, have fallen, this is needs to be understood in the context of Covid in 2020 and early 2021; by the lack of massive protests called by opposition parties, and the end of large scale counter-insurgency operations in response to initiatives to overthrow or destabilise the Government.  
  • The means of repression have shifted from broad to more targeted, and – to some extent- from ‘hardline’ to ‘softer’ tactics – such as criminalisation, censorship, and media restrictions.  The Government can also turn up or down the level of coercion as they feel the need. ‘The use of “softer” coercive tactics carry a latent effect’, says the FFM.
  • Recent, apparent structural reform is no more than a sham. The new Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET) created in July 2022, as part of the Bolivarian National Police, employs the same structure and modus operandi, and is led by members of the FAES, an elite command of the Bolivarian police believed by the Mission to be involved in crimes against humanity. 9 out of 14 of those in leadership positions in the Directorate were previously members of FAES.  
  • The experience for civic society remains dire. There is pretty much no independent media in Venezuela. Almost 300 radio stations were closed 2003 and 2022. Self-censorship is common. The Mission noted that with upcoming elections, it fears the possibility of intensifying attacks against social and political leaders.

In its report, the Mission concludes that ‘it is imperative that real and effective justice and accountability continue to be the yardstick by which the Venezuelan human rights situation is measured’. ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw says that ‘States must keep the Mission’s findings in mind when told that ‘’Venezuela is fixed’’. ‘During the Council dialogue with the Mission, States must speak out in favour of Venezuelan defenders and the essential role they play, and express clear support for the FFM and its work’, Openshaw adds.

The Fact-Finding Mission will present its report to the Human Rights Council and hold an interactive dialogue with States on Monday 25 September, at 3pm CEST. Follow it on UNWebTV.

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