UN Voices Concern about Violence in Venezuela

Five people were killed and at least 200 injured, including children and teenagers, during protests against the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro.
Andréa Barretto/Diálogo | 21 May 2019

Transnational Threats

Venezuelans cross Tachira River, in April 2019, in search of food and aid in Cúcuta, Colombia, a country that currently hosts more than one million refugees and migrants from Venezuela. (Photo: Vincent Tremeau, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

“The United Nations Human Rights Office is extremely worried by reports of excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators across Venezuela,” said Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), May 1.

The statement followed the news of violence from armed groups such as “colectivos,” that support the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro. Five people died and 239 were injured during demonstrations called on by Interim President Juan Guaidó, April 30 and May 1. Guaidó called on the people and military supporters to take part in Operation Freedom to restore constitutional order. The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

Violent attacks included gunshots and tear gas bombs — a military vehicle also ran over protestors on the street — in response to the protest. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), three of those killed during the protests were under 18. At least 15 of the injured were teenagers, ages 14 to 17. “I urge all those involved to take immediate measures to protect children from any type of violence,” said Henrietta H. Fore, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, via Twitter.

The injured included journalists attacked while covering the demonstrations. “We understand that at least 10 journalists were injured on May 1, including five who were wounded by buckshot,” Ravina Shamdasani, a UN Human Rights Office’s spokesperson told the press in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Human Rights Office urged Venezuelan authorities to protect people’s human rights. The UN also urged political leaders to engage in meaningful discussions to work toward resolving the current crisis. “The UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor developments in the country,” OHCHR said. 

Looking for a way out

Refugees from Venezuela disembark in Cuiabá, Brazil, in April 2018, and are received by partner nations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Photo: Antonio Cruz, Agência Brasil)

Venezuelans’ living conditions have been deteriorating since 2013, when Maduro took office following Hugo Chávez’s death. Since then, Venezuelans suffer from increasing violence and lack of basic supplies, such as food and medication.

The situation has created a massive Venezuelan exodus, considered to be the largest migration crisis in the recent history of Latin America, according to a 2018 report on Venezuela produced by the international nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch.

In February 2019, the office of the UNHCR reported that the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants now stands at 3.7 million. During 2018, an estimated 5,000 people left the country every day.

Colombia hosts the highest number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, with more than 1.2 million. Peru follows with 700,000; Chile, with 288,000; Ecuador, with 200,000; Argentina, with 130,000; and Brazil, with 96,000. Mexico and countries in Central America and the Caribbean also welcomed a significant number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

In Brazil, UNHCR manages the flow of Venezuelans at the borders, especially coming from three border posts in the cities of Pacaraima and Boa Vista, in Roraima state, and Manaus, in Amazonas state. “Our main intent is to get a quick profile of these people and identify their primary needs,” said Miguel Pachioni, from the UNHCR’s Press Office, in São Paulo.

The institution has been seeking partnerships with governments, as well as public and private Brazilian institutions that could provide initial shelter and, as a longer-term solution, promote the social inclusion of Venezuelans in Brazil.

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