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UN: Rule of law 'virtually absent' in Venezuela

Caracas dismisses 'grotesque media farce' as report says security forces suspected of arbitrary killings enjoy immunity.

security forces

Security forces in Venezuela have carried out hundreds of unjustified killings without any apparent consequences, the United Nations has said in a new report, drawing a rejection from government officials in Caracas..

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that Venezuelan officers accused of questionable killings appear to be evading any charges.

It called on the government to bring perpetrators to justice and said it was sending its report to the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation in February.

"The rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in the report. "The impunity must end."

The government of President Nicolas Maduro rejected the report as "grotesque media farce", which omits information officials in Caracas provided to investigators.

The findings are part of an international push against the country led by officials in the United States, the ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.

"Venezuela reiterates its unrelenting commitment to human rights set out in Venezuela's Constitution and international treaties," the statement added.

The UN report cited "credible, shocking" accounts of extrajudicial killings of young men during crime-fighting operations in poor neighbourhoods conducted without arrest warrants. It said security forces would tamper with the scene so that there appeared to have been an exchange of fire.

The report also said that between 2015 and 2017, some 357 officers were placed under investigation stemming from 505 killings during supposed neighbourhood raids.

But Venezuela's attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who was critical of Maduro, was replaced last August, and no more information about the prosecutions became public. 

Critics say Maduro has used increasingly authoritarian tactics as the OPEC nation's economy has spiralled deeper into recession and hyperinflation, fuelling discontent and prompting hundreds of thousands to emigrate in the past year.

About 125 people died in anti-government protests last year.

Security forces were allegedly responsible for killing at least 46 of them, UN rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing, adding: "Evidence has reportedly disappeared from case files."

Al-Hussein called on the UN Human Rights Council on Monday to set up an international commission of inquiry into alleged violations in Venezuela - one of its 47 member states.

"The repression is still there; it's more targeted," Tamara Taraciuk, senior researcher for the America at Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights group, said

"We've seen increasing participation of intelligence services that go and participate in the arrests - and in the abuses against detainees, including cases of torture," added Taraciuk.

Maduro has cast the release of dozens of opposition members as a peace gesture following his controversial re-election to a new six-year term last month, which was condemned by most Western nations as an undemocratic farce.

His government denies the detainees are political prisoners.

Venezuela is suffering from an economic collapse that includes chronic shortages of food and medicine and huge inflation numbers. 

Maduro blames an "economic war" directed by the opposition and the United States - which has imposed new sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry.

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