Washington, D.C.—On September 20, the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela issued a two-part report on the human rights situation in the country, documenting evidence of crimes against humanity and grave human rights violations in the context of state repression as well as the human rights situation in remote mining areas in Bolivar state. This report implicates high-level Venezuelan government authorities in crimes under international law, extending from those directly responsible to the highest levels of the chain of command.
In the report on its findings, which is accompanied by two in-depth conference room papers, the FFM documents evidence that crimes against humanity, including grave acts of torture, were systematically committed in accordance with a state plan by intelligence agents in the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN). Nicolas Maduro, among other high-level authorities, “stand out as the main architects in the design, implementation and maintenance of a machinery with the purpose of repressing dissent” as part of this plan, according to the report. The FFM also presented evidence of human rights violations and crimes in the Arco Minero mining region, an area marked by widespread criminal activity, and a breakdown in the rule of law.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) joins the FFM in calling for effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into all those implicated in the human rights violations and crimes against humanity alleged in the report. As an organization dedicated to advancing human rights in Venezuela, WOLA has supported the FFM since its creation and is part of a broad coalition urging the UN Human Rights Council to support the renewal of the FFM’s mandate in the current session. The FFM’s work has been essential in advancing the search for justice, and in ensuring ongoing international scrutiny over the situation in Venezuela. Its mandate is complementary with that of other mechanisms such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the ongoing investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Amid renewed international efforts to advance negotiations between the government and Venezuelan opposition, it is also important to underscore that the mandate of the FFM actually strengthens the potential for meaningful agreements. The FFM’s reports have laid bare the fact that Venezuela lacks an independent justice system, which has been co-opted by the executive branch and consistently failed to implement meaningful reforms. The Mission’s recommendations offer a path forward to what is needed in order to bring this pattern of generalized impunity to an end: significant changes which would permit the genuine investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
In the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Venezuelan government and the opposition in September 2021, the parties made a commitment to discuss respect for the rule of law and reparations for victims. This commitment is important, but any such discussion should take into account the work of the FFM, as well as the voices of Venezuelan victims themselves. In future negotiations, it is essential that victims and their families are given a clear space for their petitions and perspectives to be heard in a confidential and secure way that shields them from reprisals.