Monday, May 5, 2014

Human Rights Watch: Unarmed Protestors Beaten, Shot: Rights Violations in Venezuela

"Prosecutors, Judges Complicit in Rights Violations" - Human Rights Watch

NBP detain a demonstrator at protests in Caracas, Venezuela, 3/22/14 AP
May 5, 2014
This 103-page report documents 45 cases from Caracas and three states, involving more than 150 victims, in which security forces have abused the rights of protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations. Security forces have also allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with the gangs.

Excerpt from the report summary:

The accounts of the victims in these 45 cases—together with corroborating evidence assembled from a diverse range of sources—provided credible evidence that more than 150 people were victims of serious abuses in related incidents. (For more on how we conducted our research and documented cases, see the “Methodology”section in this report.)
In most of the cases we documented, security forces employed unlawful force, including shooting and severely beating unarmed individuals. Nearly all of the victims were also arrested and, while in detention, subjected to physical and psychological abuse. In at least 10 cases, the abuses clearly constituted torture. 
In all three states, as well as in Caracas, security forces allowed armed pro-government gangs to assault unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with them in the attacks, our research found. 
The Venezuelan government has characterized the protests taking place throughout the country as violent. There is no doubt that some protesters have used violence, including throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces. More than 200 security force members and government officials have been injured in the context of the protests, and at least nine have died, according to the government. All crimes—including those committed against security forces, protesters, and bystanders—require rigorous investigation, and those responsible should be brought to justice. Moreover, security forces have a responsibility to detain people caught in the act of committing crimes.
However, in the 45 cases of human rights violations we documented, the evidence indicated that the victims of unlawful force and other abuses were not engaging in acts of violence or other criminal activity at the time they were targeted by Venezuelan security forces. On the contrary, eyewitness testimony, video footage, photographs and other evidence suggest victims were unarmed and nonviolent. Indeed, some of the worst abuses we documented were committed against people who were not even participating in demonstrations, or were already in detention and fully under the control of security forces.
The nature and timing of many of these abuses—as well as the frequent use of political epithets by the perpetrators—suggests that their aim was not to enforce the law or disperse protests, but rather to punish people for their political views or perceived views. 
In many instances, the aim of the abuse appears to have been to prevent individuals from documenting the tactics being employed by security forces, or to punish those attempting to do so. In 13 of the cases we investigated, security forces targeted individuals who had been taking photographs or filming security force confrontations with protesters.
Roughly half of these individuals were professional journalists, while the other half were protesters or bystanders using cell phones to document use of force by security forces.
In addition to the unlawful use of force and arbitrary arrests, nearly all of the 45 cases involved violations of due process guarantees. These included holding detainees incommunicado, denying them access to lawyers until minutes before they were presented to judges, and in several cases planting evidence on them before charging them with crimes. Judges often confirmed charges against detainees based on dubious evidence presented by prosecutors, without subjecting the evidence to rigorous review or inquiring into how suspects presented before them had sustained visible injuries.

Prosecutors and judges routinely turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting that detainees had been subject to abuses while in detention, such as ignoring obvious signs of physical abuse, or interrogating detainees in military installations, where it was clear they did not have access to lawyers.

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