CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan security forces have executed several people and arbitrarily detained hundreds of others in a campaign to punish people who protested against President Nicolas Maduro, human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
In a report titled “Hunger, punishment and fear, the formula for repression in Venezuela,” Amnesty said dozens died during five days of protests from Jan 21 to Jan 25, almost all from gunshot wounds, and 900 people were arrested.
Amnesty called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to take action to address the “total impunity that prevails in Venezuela” by creating an independent investigative body to report on the human rights situation.
The protests were sparked by opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call for people to demand a change in government after Maduro began a second term following a vote last year widely considered as fraudulent. Guaido on Jan. 23 invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, though Maduro says Guaido is leading a U.S.-directed coup against him.
“The authorities under Nicolas Maduro are trying to use fear and punishment to impose a repulsive strategy of social control against those who demand change,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty.
“His government is attacking the most impoverished people that it claims to defend, but instead it murders, detains and threatens them.”
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to a request to comment.
Amnesty said state authorities carried out extrajudicial executions as a method of social control, mainly using the National Police’s Special Actions Force (FAES) to target poor areas that had risen up against Maduro.
The FAES have carried out dozens of deadly raids in recent weeks. The unit has said reports of abuses are “fake news” spread by right-wing opponents and their “struggle is against all criminals that ravage our communities.”
Amnesty said 41 people had died, mostly from gunshot wounds, in protests in late January. It said it had documented six extrajudicial executions by the FAES of young men linked to the protests.
In one case in the city of Carora, Amnesty said, police beat up Luis Enrique Ramos Suarez, 29, at his home where 10 relatives were present, shot him dead and then staged a mock shoot out to cover up the killing.
Amnesty recommended that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court should consider the facts in its report and possibly incorporate them in a preliminary examination already underway on Venezuela.
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