UN warns of possible ‘crimes against humanity’ in Venezuela

GENEVA (AFP) – The UN rights chief warned yesterday of possible “crimes against humanity” in Venezuela, prompting the crisis-wracked country to accuse his office of wielding human rights as “a political weapon”.

“My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said at the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, calling for an international probe.

Venezuela’s crisis has caused food and medicine shortages, deadly unrest and calls for President Nicolas Maduro to quit.

Clashes with security forces at anti-government protests have left around 130 people dead since April.

International powers accuse Maduro of dismantling democracy by taking over state institutions in order to resist the opposition pressure.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, shakes hands with delegates before the 36th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the UN, in Geneva, yesterday. – AP

“There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices,” Zeid warned.

He said an investigation by his office had noted the widespread use of “criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture”.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat also addressed the council yesterday, demanding that Zeid stop his office’s “aggressions” towards Venezuela, and slamming “the political selective and bias use of human rights”.

“The strategy used against my country from certain centres of power is a clear example of the use of human rights as a political weapon,” he told the council.