Venezuelan Security Forces Kill Hundreds in Summary Executions, U.N. Says

A new United Nations report has accused Venezuela's security forces of hundreds of summary executions as the authoritarian government seeks to silence the country's increasingly desperate opposition.

The report says the Venezuelan government is failing to hold its forces to account as they seek to repress protests against ever-worsening living standards in the oil-rich nation, racked by economic crisis.

The United Nations said excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, torture and "shocking" executions have become common. Most of the abuses have come as part of so-called "operations for the liberation of the people" (OLPs), which were launched in 2015. The report said there were at least 505 killings between July 2015 and March 2017.

An anti-government activist is arrested by the National Guard during clashes in Caracas on July 27, 2017. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Witness accounts describe a pattern for these operations in which security forces would raid poor neighborhoods to arrest young men, ending with their deaths. Security services would then arrange the scene as necessary to suggest the victim had resisted arrest.

Investigations have been opened against 357 officers for alleged murders, with Venezuela's Bureau for Scientific, Criminal, and Forensic Investigations (CICPC) is overseeing the cases. However, the CICPC itself is responsible for most of the killings, the United Nations said.

The OLPs were replaced in January 2017 by the "operations for the humanitarian liberation of the people," which are reportedly even less transparent. Killings have continued under this news guise.

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Dozens of protesters were killed last year in demonstrations against hyperinflation and the lack of basic food and medical products. Of the 54 arrest warrants issued by the country's former attorney general Luisa Ortega—who was fired last year and went into exile—just one trial has formally begun. Evidence has been lost and investigators have been blocked from pursuing the cases, the report said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, warned that "the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela." Hussein said the institutions that are supposed to hold the state to account have been "chiseled away," leaving the regime to operate with impunity.

The commissioner called for an international investigation into the alleged killings, suggesting that the International Criminal Court may be required to bring the accused to justice.

National Guard riot police and opposition demonstrators clash during an anti-government protest in Caracas, on July 26, 2017. FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images

Around 5,000 Venezuelans are fleeing the country each day as President Nicolas Maduro's government grapples with a faltering economy and near-worthless currency. Already 1.5 million have left to seek better conditions in neighboring nations like Brazil and Colombia.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly claims the inflation rate has passed 24,600 percent as of May, but the central bank has not released any official figures since December 2015. As many as 87 percent of Venezuelans are affected by poverty, Hussein said, calling living conditions "dismal."

Maduro and his allies blame a U.S.-led "economic war" for the dire living conditions and crippled economy, while his opponents say the policies of his government and that of his predecessor Hugo Chávez are at fault.