Amnesty urges ICC to probe 'crimes against humanity' in Venezuela

Amnesty accuses Maduro of responding to anti-gov't protesters with 'systematic policy of repression' in late January.

    Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas [File: Manaure Quintero/Reuters]
    Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas [File: Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

    Amnesty International said on Tuesday it believes the Venezuelan authorities have committed crimes against humanity in their crackdown on anti-government protests, and urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate.

    The rights group said President Nicolas Maduro's government responded with "a systematic and widespread policy of repression" in late January, when anti-government protests swept the country after opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president, declaring Maduro's 2018 re-election illegitimate. 

    Maduro opponents were tortured and killed during the protests, Amnesty said.

    "The nature of the attacks ... the level of coordination by the security forces, as well as the signs of similar patterns in 2014 and 2017, leads Amnesty International to believe that the Venezuelan authorities committed crimes against humanity," Amnesty said in a statement.

    Guaido is locked in a bitter power struggle with Maduro, who maintains the support of Russia, China and Turkey, as well as most of the country's institutions, including the military. He accuses Guaido and the United States of attempting a coup.

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    Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature, declared himself acting president on January 23. The opposition leader has since been recognised by more than 50 countries, led by the US.

    Amnesty sent a fact-finding mission to Venezuela in February to research the crackdown on the anti-government protests that preceded and followed Guaido's swearing-in.

    Torture, executions

    The London-based rights group said at least 47 people were killed during the protests from January 21 to 25. At least 33 were shot dead by the security forces, and six by government supporters.

    "Eleven of these deaths were extrajudicial executions," said Erika Guevara, Americas director for Amnesty International, who presented the report in Mexico City.

    "State forces identified people who had been prominent in the protests in their communities, located them and shortly afterwards killed them ... Some of them were tortured before they were killed," the report said.

    More than 900 people, including children, were arbitrarily detained over the same period, it said.

    It called on the UN Human Rights Council and ICC to investigate.

    Amnesty's team found that crimes and human rights violations were committed in "an attack planned and led by the security forces against individuals identified as or perceived to be opponents, particularly in impoverished areas." 

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    Maduro himself "knew about these public and appalling acts and took no measures to either prevent or investigate them," it said.

    Maduro's government has not responded to the allegations. 

    Millions of Venezuelans have fled Venezuela in recent years as the country experiences hyperinflation, unemployment and food and medicine shortages. 

    Security forces block opposition politicians

    Meanwhile on Tuesday, Venezuelan security forces prevented opposition politicians from entering the parliament building for a session on Tuesday, a week after the top court stripped several politicians of their immunity.

    Members of the Sebin intelligence service, wearing masks and carrying long guns, together with members of the national police and the military blocked the entrance and were investigating the possible presence of an explosive device inside the National Assembly building, politicians said.

    Last week, one opposition politician was arrested and several took refuge in foreign embassies in Caracas or fled the country

    "This is all part of a show to prevent the National Assembly from functioning," politician Juan Pablo Guanipa told Reuters News Agency. "This is a dictatorship that goes after dissidents, and we are fighting for a political change." 

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Tribunal accused four opposition legislators of treason and conspiracy, according to a statement posted on the court's Facebook page, following similar earlier accusations against 10 opposition politicians. 

    The moves come after opposition politicians participated in demonstrations that were part of a failed uprising led by Guaido on April 30. 

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    Venezuela's information ministry, which handles media inquiries on behalf of the government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

    The government stripped the assembly of most of its powers after the opposition won a majority in 2015 elections. Politicians loyal to Maduro generally do not attend the sessions, but go to meetings of the constituent assembly, a legislative "superbody" created in 2017 that meets in the same building on Wednesdays.

    Tuesday's session was scheduled for 10am (14:00GMT), but never began. The politicians were set to discuss the Supreme Tribunal's stripping of several of their colleagues' parliamentary immunity and the arrest of Edgar Zambrano, the National Assembly's vice president and an outspoken critic of Maduro.

    Opposition politician Jorge Millan told reporters the report of "bombs" in the building was false.

    "It is a trick to prevent the parliament from functioning today," he said. "If we do not have a session today, we will do it tomorrow."

    SOURCE: News agencies