The Venezuelan regime led by Nicolas Maduro has committed "egregious violations" since 2014 "amounting to crimes against humanity," a United Nations report published Wednesday says.
The report by the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, which is investigating human rights violations, found several examples of extrajudicial killings, politically motivated detentions, torture and forced disappearances.
"The Mission found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which — including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture — amount to crimes against humanity," said Marta Valinas, chairwoman of the mission. "Far from being isolated acts, these crimes were coordinated and committed pursuant to State policies, with the knowledge or direct support of commanding officers and senior government officials."
A previous report by the U.N.'s human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, referred to thousands of killings by Venezuela's security forces. But this is the first time U.N. investigators directly point at Maduro and other high-ranking officials as responsible for violence against his opponents.
"President Maduro and the Ministers of the Interior and of Defense were aware of the crimes," a summary of the report says. "They gave orders, coordinated activities, and supplied resources in furtherance of the plans and policies under which the crimes were committed."
In particular, the report notes Maduro was aware of torture and other acts of violence committed against detained dissidents.
The report also recommended investigating Maduro's No. 2, Diosdado Cabello, given his influence on the country's intelligence service, SEBIN, involved in several documented cases of torture and forced disappearances.
The head of the Venezuelan National Assembly and interim President Juan Guaido, who has mounted a challenge to the Maduro regime over the past 20 months, quickly reacted on Twitter to say the report worked to the opposition's advantage. He is trying to unite the opposition to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections organized by Maduro.
"The U.N. Mission report clears any doubts: Maduro is a criminal who, in addition to dealing with drug trafficking and terrorism, commits crimes against humanity," he wrote. "It is a great development that turns the table to our advantage in our fights for freedom and justice for the victims."
The U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told reporters Wednesday that he hopes the report will be a reminder to the European Union of the "nature of the regime." Maduro has offered to have the EU act as international observer in the elections.
Abrams said that an EU agreement to monitor the vote if it were postponed, as the top EU diplomat has suggested, would not be enough if the fundamental conditions for free and fair elections are not in place. "That would be a terrible deal," he said.
"This is an extraordinary report to come from the U.N.," he said. "We are not used to seeing so tough reporting coming from the U.N."
The report contains grisly details about state violence against Venezuelans, including a compilation of different types of torture deployed against the Maduro regime's critics. Among them, the document cites "electric shocks to the genitals or other parts of the body"; "asphyxiation with plastic bags, chemical substances or a bucket of water"; beatings; and "different stress positions" to immobilize detainees.
Pedro Jaimes Criollo was among those tortured. He was arbitrarily arrested in 2018 for posting content on Twitter about demonstrations and public information about Maduro's traveling.
He told the U.N. mission that SEBIN agents beat him with sticks or bats wrapped in plastic or cloth, and placed a bag over his head and sprayed insecticide inside during interrogations. He also said he was administered electric shocks.
In another case the report details, Sorbay Padilla, the wife of Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo, who was involved in an effort to overthrow the regime in 2018, was arbitrarily arrested and tortured shortly after the failed attempt.
During the interrogations, the officer in charge "became angry and pulled her by the hair. One of the female officers struck Ms. Padilla in the face," the report says. "Officers gave her eight electric shocks, to her ribs, legs, chest, and back. Her interrogators repeatedly grabbed her face, dislodging a dental crown, which she swallowed."
The U.N. mission also documented seven cases in which intelligence agents committed acts of sexual or gender-based violence against detainees to force confessions.
Officers from Venezuela's military counterintelligence agency, DGCIM, also engaged in similar practices.
"DGCIM female and male officers subjected individuals interviewed to forced nudity ... for days," the report says. "Electric shocks and blows were administered, including to the testicles. DGCIM officers subjected detainees to a practice they called 'breastfeeding,' during which they beat detainees with a bat that had the word for 'tit' in Spanish written on it.
"Female relatives taken to 'safe houses' were sexually assaulted and/or tortured with asphyxiation, beatings, and electric shocks," the document adds.
The U.N. mission recommended immediately dismantling the FAES, Maduro's elite police, for its role in thousands of extrajudicial killings.
An FAES official interviewed for the report said that they believed their mission was "to eliminate persons that are dregs of society, to perform a 'social cleansing.' "
"Two former FAES officers, interviewed separately, told the Mission that should brigades fail to kill the required number of presumed criminals, they proceeded to 'kill innocents,' " the report added.