Independent experts commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council have alleged the government of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro committed crimes against humanity.
The experts have issued a report that said the people responsible for crimes that include extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture must be held to account, in part to ensure they do not happen again.
The report was commissioned last year.
The findings, based on nearly 3,000 cases that were investigated or examined, concluded that Mr Maduro and his defence and interior ministers were aware of crimes committed by security forces and intelligence agencies.
It further alleged that high-level authorities had both power and oversight over the forces and agencies, making the top officials responsible.
Mr Maduro’s government has come under increasing political pressure from the United States and dozens of other countries which consider Juan Guaido the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Maduro has called this a plot to overthrow him so the US can exploit Venezuela’s oil wealth.
The 411-page report for the Human Rights Council represents an extensive look at rights violations in Venezuela and was based on interviews with alleged victims, relatives, witnesses, police, government officials and judges, as well as videos, satellite imagery and social media content.
The authors said they did not receive responses from the government itself.
Marta Valinas, Francisco Cox Vial and Paul Seils worked under a fact-finding mission for the Geneva-based rights council set up last September to investigate violations in Venezuela over the past five years.
“These acts were committed pursuant to two state policies, one to quash opposition to the government and another to combat crime, including by eliminating individuals perceived as criminals,” Ms Valinas told reporters.
“We also consider that the documented crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.
“For these reasons, the mission has reasonable grounds to believe that they amount to crimes against humanity.”
Under Article 7 of the UN treaty that established the International Criminal Court, a crime against humanity is defined as an act committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”.
The experts said the violations in Venezuela took place amid a breakdown of democratic institutions, rule of law and judicial independence in the country, often during crackdowns on protesters.
They said the “vast majority” of unlawful killings by security forces have not resulted in prosecutions and “at no stage have officials with command responsibility been brought to justice”.