WASHINGTON – Human Rights Watch said in a new report Monday that judges and prosecutors in Venezuela have repeatedly ignored evidence of systematic human rights abuses by government security forces.
Dozens of unarmed protesters have been subject to serious physical and psychological abuse, the prominent group said, during protests that have left at least 41 dead since February.
The New York-based organization said it has documented at least 10 cases serious enough to be considered torture.
Its report is based on March visits to Caracas and the Venezuelan states of Carabobo, Lara, and Miranda. Human Rights Watch said that nearly all of the 150 of the victims it found were denied basic due process, and that many were held incommunicado and denied access to legal counsel until minutes before they went to court, often in the middle of the night.
Venezuela's government blames protesters for most of the violence and abuses and says 15 officials are being investigated for alleged human rights violations. Human Rights Watch noted that the government says some 200 security force members and officials have also been injured and at least nine killed.
Still, "the scale of rights violations we found in Venezuela and the collaboration of security forces and justice officials in committing them shows these aren't isolated incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Rather, they are the part of an alarming pattern of abuse that is the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years."
He said Venezuela should end the rights abuses, investigate ones that have already occurred and bring those responsible for committing them to justice. Acts of violence and abuse committed by other parties should be investigated and prosecuted as well, Vivanco said, regardless of the political affiliation of suspects or victims.
The Americas director also called on the international community, and especially the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, which regularly deals with the Venezuelan government to "forcefully condemn" the abuses.
President Nicolás Maduro has said he considers the ongoing protests to be part of a plan being undertaken by extreme right groups aiming to provoke an overthrow of his government.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.