United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is calling on Venezuela to release all political prisoners and end the repression of political and civil rights.
In September, Foro Penal, a Venezuelan network of criminal defense lawyers, reported there were 400 government opponents in Venezuela’s prisons. On September 25, Bachelet presented an oral update of conditions in Venezuela before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
While the report presented a generally bleak picture of human rights in Venezuela, Bachelet said there are a few bright spots. She welcomed the recent pardon by the Maduro regime of 110 political opponents who had been detained for months, and the release of 40 others.
However, she said many dissidents and human rights defenders still are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for exercising their civic and democratic rights. She said they too should be released.
“My office continued to document cases of repression of peaceful protesters in the context of the state of emergency that has been in place since March, including the arrests of demonstrators protesting against low wages and pensions, poor public services and fuel shortages […]. In addition, we observed restrictions on freedom of expression, including the application of anti-hate legislation, attacks against human rights defenders and assaults on and arrests of journalists,” Bachelet said.
The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 because of persecution and economic hardship. Many have since returned home because COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible for them to earn a living in their countries of refuge.
Bachelet said she is concerned some Venezuelan authorities are stigmatizing migrants returning to the country. She said many are being blamed for bringing COVID-19 to Venezuela and some are being detained.
“I recognized the implementation of biosecurity protocols related to COVID-19 in detention centers. I reiterate my call to substantially improve health conditions, access to water, food and medicine, and to ensure regular contact with relatives and lawyers, either physically or by telephone,” Bachelet said.
Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Jorge Valero, lashed out at what he called a small group of hostile countries that backed a resolution at the council directing the high commissioner to monitor the situation in his country.
He rejected the high commissioner’s report, saying it distorted the truth and was based on biased information used to fuel a media campaign against Venezuela.