UN rights chief decries Venezuela crackdown, criticises sanctions

Michelle Bachelet renews tough criticism of Maduro's gov't. She also warns US sanctions could hurt Venezuelan citizens.

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. [File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]
    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. [File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

    The UN human rights chief on Wednesday stepped up her criticism of US sanctions against Venezuela's government, a day after US President Donald Trump warned Washington could still impose "tougher" measures.

    Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also renewed her tough criticism of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, accusing it of a violent crackdown on dissent.

    Venezuelan security forces, backed by pro-government armed groups, have quashed peaceful protests with excessive use of force, killings and torture, the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday.

    Bachelet, addressing the Human Rights Council, cited allegations that the National Police's Special Actions Force (FAES) had executed 37 people in January in Caracas in illegal house raids in poor areas supporting the opposition.

    Criticising US sanctions, Bachelet cautioned that Washington's moves could hurt Venezuelan citizens. 

    "I am concerned that the recent sanctions on financial transfers related to the sale of Venezuelan oil within the United States may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people's basic rights and wellbeing," she told the Human Rights Council. 

    Bachelet had previously warned that sanctions have "exacerbated" the crisis.

    In addition to the punitive measures announced on Tuesday against mining company Minerven, the US has cut Maduro's regime off from the revenue generated by its state oil company, which counts on the US as a key market through operator Citgo.

    In January, Trump imposed sanctions on the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the stiffest economic measure against Maduro and Venezuela to date. The US is among countries that have recognised opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido as the legitimate head of state.

    Speaking in Geneva as the Minerven sanctions were being announced, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Carrie Filipetti told reporters that the US was not trying to harm Venezuela's population.

    "We have tried to target our sanctions as much as possible so that it can affect the regime but leave the individual Venezuelans as untouched as possible," she said.

    Doctors 'under pressure'

    A rights office team is currently in Venezuela to assess the crisis.

    Civil society groups have said that doctors are coming under pressure from Maduro's government for trying to alert the UN mission about the severe lack of hospital medicine and equipment.

    "It is important that the team have completely unhindered access, with no reprisals against any person who has met, or sought to meet, with them," Bachelet told the rights council.

    It was not immediately clear if she was referring to the reported pressure facing her staff.

    Nearly three million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 and about 5,000 are leaving each day amid a devastating political crisis and economic collapse.

    SOURCE: News agencies