UPDATE 1-Maduro security forces committed crimes against humanity – UN

*U.N. fact-finding mission issues report on Venezuela. GENEVA, Sept 16- The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has committed systematic human rights violations including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, U.N. investigators said on Wednesday. Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to a request to comment…

* U.N. fact-finding mission issues report on Venezuela

* Finds that security forces committed crimes againsthumanity

* Grounds to believe Maduro, ministers “ordered orcontributed”

* Venezuelan government yet to respond to report’s findings(Adds quotes from press conference, details)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Sept 16 (Reuters) – The government of VenezuelanPresident Nicolas Maduro has committed systematic human rightsviolations including killings and torture amounting to crimesagainst humanity, U.N. investigators said on Wednesday.

Reasonable grounds existed to believe that Maduro and hisinterior and defence ministers ordered or contributed to thecrimes documented in the report in order to silence opposition,they said.

Specifically they had information indicating that Maduroordered the director of the national intelligence service SEBINto detain opponents “without judicial order”, Francisco Cox ofthe U.N. Fact-Finding Mission told a news briefing.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to arequest to comment on the report, which was based on more than270 interviews with victims, witnesses, former officials andlawyers, and confidential documents.

They included the former head of the National IntelligenceService, General Christopher Figuera, whose testimony wascorroborated, the report said.

Most unlawful executions by security forces and state agentshave not been prosecuted in Venezuela, where the rule of law anddemocratic institutions have broken down, the panel said.

The investigators said other national jurisdictions and theInternational Criminal Court (ICC), which opened a preliminaryexamination into Venezuela in 2018, should considerprosecutions.

It would share its database containing the names of officersidentified by victims that included 20 officers from SEBIN and25 from the military intelligence agency DGCIM.

“The Mission found reasonable grounds to believe thatVenezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014planned and executed serious human rights violations, some ofwhich – including arbitrary killings and the systematic use oftorture – amount to crimes against humanity,” panel chair MartaValinas said.

The panel found that officers in the military, police andintelligence had committed extrajudicial killings and called onthe government to disband the special actions forces of thepolice known as FAES.

“PLANTING EVIDENCE”

The panel said it had reasonable grounds to believe theintelligence service falsified or planted evidence on victims,and that its agents tortured detainees. They includedopposition lawmaker Fernando Alban, whom the government saidcommitted suicide in 2018 but whose party said was murdered.

Navy Captain Rafael Acosta was believed to have died oftorture in the custody of the military intelligence agency DGCIMlast year, the U.N. experts said.

The panel, set up by the Human Rights Council to investigateviolations since 2014, was not granted access to Venezuela. Morethan 5 million people – one sixth of the population – have fledthe country’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis.

Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nationsin Geneva, told the forum on Tuesday the government wascooperating with the separate office of U.N. High Commissionerfor Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, notably in facilitatingprison visits.

Valero denounced the latest sanctions imposed by the Trumpadministration which were “causing suffering and death for theVenezuelan people”. The United States, along with dozens ofother countries, recognises opposition politician Juan Guaido asVenezuela’s legitimate interim leader.

The report found that the Venezuelan state apparatusresponded with repressive tactics to opposition protests thatgrew especially after Maduro was re-elected in 2018 amid anoutcry over the results.

“Security forces used lethal force against the victim whenit was not strictly unavoidable to protect lives. Securityforces also used less-lethal weapons in a lethal manner, whichresulted in the death of the demonstrators,” it said.(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan andMike Collett-White)

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