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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

UN rights chief calls for probe of abuses in Venezuela

New report says more than 500 people may have been killed by state security forces over two years

(FILES) In this file photo taken Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, attend a ceremony on February 04, 2016 to commemorate the 24th anniversary of former president Hugo Chavez's military coup against the government of Carlos Andres Perez. Federico Parra / AFP PARRA
(FILES) In this file photo taken Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, attend a ceremony on February 04, 2016 to commemorate the 24th anniversary of former president Hugo Chavez's military coup against the government of Carlos Andres Perez. Federico Parra / AFP PARRA

The UN human rights chief has called for an international investigation of atrocities in Venezuela after the government's refusal to look into allegations of civilians being killed by security officers.

"The failure to hold security forces accountable for such serious human rights violations suggests that the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, as his office launched a new report on the crisis-stricken country.

Mr Al Hussein asked the UN Human Rights Council to set up its highest-level probe — a commission of inquiry — for Venezuela and said the International Criminal Court may need to get further involved.

The Hague-based ICC in February opened a preliminary investigation into crimes allegedly committed by the security forces during a wave of protests against President Nicolas Maduro.

The UN rights office, which examined Mr Maduro's crackdown on protesters in a report last year, said its new findings relate mostly to abuses committed during purported anti-crime operations.

UN investigators have been denied access to Venezuela. Some of the findings were based on remote monitoring as well as interviews with victims, witnesses, civil society groups and others.

Other evidence includes material compiled by former attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz, who was sacked by Mr Maduro last August and is living in exile.

The report highlights alleged extrajudicial killings by officers involved in the Operations for the Liberation of the People.

It said those officers, supposedly tasked with fighting crime, may have been responsible for more than 500 killings between July 2015 and March 2017, largely carried out in poor neighbourhoods.

Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that the victims were young men who "tended to fit the profile of suspected criminals" and were "arrested and killed without judicial warrants".

The operations were designed to show Mr Maduro was tough on crime, Ms Shamdashani said.

The report also highlighted the "pervasive" impunity for Mr Maduro and for officers blamed for killing at least 46 people during protests last year.

According to the UN, Ortega Diaz had issued dozens of warrants against officers linked to the deaths, but only one trial has started.

"This impunity must end," Mr Al Hussein said in a statement.

Under Mr Maduro, Venezuela is going through the worst economic crisis in its history.

Hyperinflation has crippled the country, leading to shortages of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Venezuela to escape the growing deprivation.

The UN also accused the government of failing to acknowledged the extent of the crisis.

"Families are having to search for food in rubbish bins," Mr Al Hussein said.

"When a box of hypertension pills costs more than the monthly minimum wage and baby milk formula more than two months' salary, but protesting against such an impossible situation can land you in jail, the extreme injustice of it all is stark."

Upon his re-election on May 20, Mr Maduro promised to work for reconciliation and offered to free political opponents who have not committed serious crimes, in order to "overcome the wounds" of the protests against him, which have left some 200 dead since 2014.

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