UN experts: Venezuelan judiciary has big role in repression

GENEVA (AP) — Experts working with the U.N.’s top human rights body say Venezuela’s judicial system has played a “significant role” in state repression in the country, citing widespread allegations of rights violations.

One defendant quoted in a new report released Thursday claimed authorities used against him a tactic employed by the Nazis to exert pressure on detainees by seizing their relatives.

The experts say the country’s judicial system has allowed repeated rights violations against opponents of President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which have included allegations of enforced disappearance, torture — including sexual violence — and arbitrary killings. The legal system weakened just as a state policy to quash opposition has grown since 2014, the year after Maduro took office, they said.

The three-member team that has led the fact-finding mission, under a mandate from the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, said it found no evidence of high-level officials being investigated or prosecuted over allegations of some of the most egregious and violent rights violations.

“Based on the investigations and analysis conducted, the mission has reasonable grounds to believe that instead of providing protection to victims of human rights violations and crimes, the Venezuelan justice system has played a significant role in the state’s repression of government opponents,” said Marta Valinas, a Portuguese legal and human rights expert who chaired the team.

The team issued its report based on 177 interviews, including of lawyers and former judges, and thousands of pages of case files -– including an analysis of 183 detentions of government opponents.

Among the findings: Judges ordered pre-trial detention as a routine measure, and issued arrest warrants retrospectively for illegal arrests. The experts unearthed “reasonable grounds” to believe that high-level political actors had exerted influence over the judiciary, and said judicial sources had reported that judges regularly receive orders on how to decide cases.

In one case, the report said, a defendant held in custody in April and May last year was allegedly subjected to torture – including being asphyxiated with a bag – while being investigated by members of the General Directorate of Military Intelligence, or DGCIM. On one occasion the defendant was taken to hospital to be revived.

The defendant later told a terrorism court that military intelligence officers had told him they would use “Sippenhaft” – a collective punishment tactic used by the Nazis – involving imprisonment of his relatives. According to his account, DGCIM members later went to his house and arrested his two sisters and brother-in-law, who were detained for over a month.

The report said there was no sign that the court had taken any action in response to the allegation.

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