Police Raids Hit Poor Areas in Venezuela: Rights group
April 4, Washington: Police and military raids in low-income and immigrant communities in Venezuela have led to widespread allegations of abuse, the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report release. The allegations included extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary detentions, maltreatment of detainees, forced evictions, the destruction of homes, and the arbitrary deportation of Colombian nationals.
The 39-page report, “Unchecked Power: Police and Military Raids in Low-Income and Immigrant Communities in Venezuela,” covers allegations of abuses during public security operations carried out nationwide, beginning in July 2015, as part of the “Operation to Liberate and Protect the People” (OLP), which was billed as an operation to combat criminal gangs. A common denominator in all the cases, and in other cases of government abuses PROVEA and Human Rights Watch have documented over past decade, is the extent to which the victims – or their families – have felt they have nowhere to turn for redress or for protection of their fundamental rights.
PROVEA and Human Rights Watch interviewed – or reviewed written testimony of – dozens of residents in Caracas and five states (Carabobo, Miranda, Nueva Esparta, Vargas, and Zulia) who said they were victims of abuse during OLP raids or had witnessed abuses suffered by others. In two other states, Mérida and Táchira, we interviewed human rights defenders who had documented allegations of abuse and we reviewed information published by international organizations who had conducted research on the Colombian border. We also reviewed official sources, including judicial documents and statements by authorities, as well as photographs and videos.
The government has not reported total figures on security personnel killed or injured during raids, but PROVEA and Human Rights Watch, in reviewing official documents and media sources on the operations, found three reports of killings and 14 in which security agents were said to have been wounded. The enormous disparity in the numbers of casualties undercuts the government’s claim that killings took place when criminals violently confronted the police, the groups said.
Security agents also have carried out mass detentions indiscriminately, residents told PROVEA and Human Rights Watch. According to official sources, security forces detained more than 14,000 people temporarily between July 2015 and January 2016, during the operations, to “verify” whether they were wanted for crimes, but fewer than 100 were ultimately charged with any offense. More than 1,700 Colombians were deported, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported. Hundreds of deported Colombians had either requested asylum or been granted refugee status by Venezuela, and at least 22,000 more are said to have left the country fearing abuses or deportation.
Witnesses said that in some cases during the raids, security agents beat or otherwise abused detainees. Witnesses also said that some agents stole money, laptop computers, cell phones, and basic goods such as food and diapers while searching homes or detaining their residents.
In other raids, residents said, government agents arbitrarily evicted thousands of people, either from government housing projects or private homes, and bulldozed hundreds of houses. Satellite images obtained by HRW confirm that hundreds of homes were destroyed in communities in two states where security agents allegedly carried out mass evictions. Residents said they had neither prior notice nor any opportunity to contest the government’s decision to evict them.
There is no publicly available information on the status of any official investigations into allegations of abuses during the OLP raids. Representatives of the Attorney General’s Office told PROVEA that 25 security agents are under investigation, but they would not provide names or details. The office has not responded to a February 2016 letter from HRW requesting detailed information on the status of investigations into alleged abuses during the raids.
The government of Venezuela should ensure that all security operations are carried out in accordance with its international human rights obligations, including the requirement to refrain from using unlawful force during public security operations, PROVEA and HRW said. To curb security force abuses, it is essential for the government to bring any security officers responsible for human rights violations to justice. For that to be a realistic prospect, Venezuelan authorities should take urgent steps to restore judicial independence.
The Oslo Times