The detentions in some cases amounted to short term enforced disappearances and included torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, either to extract confessions or as punishment. A former SEBIN director told the Mission that the institution had a “cultural behaviour” of torture.
Torture techniques included: stress positions; asphyxiation; beatings; electric shocks; cuts and mutilations; death threats; and psychological torture.
“Intelligence agencies also subjected dissidents – both men and women – to sexual violence, including rape with body parts or objects and threats to rape either the detainee or the detainee’s loved ones, forced nudity, as well as beatings and electric shocks to the genitals. These acts of sexual violence also constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” said Francisco Cox.
Former Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo died after being tortured in DGCIM custody and at least two people died in SEBIN custody.
“These arbitrary detentions, short term disappearances and torture were directed against the civilian population as part of a policy to silence opposition to the Maduro Government,” said Francisco Cox.
“Commanding officers, including high-level authorities within SEBIN and DGCIM, had full knowledge of this pattern of crimes, which often occurred in the very buildings where they worked. The Mission has recorded the names of more than 45 SEBIN and DGCIM officials directly responsible, who should be investigated and prosecuted.”
The Mission also documented violations amid the State’s increasingly violent response to mass opposition protests, especially in 2014, 2017 and 2019. These include the killings of 36 protesters, who were shot with firearms and less-lethal munitions, as well as torture and other ill-treatment in detention, including beatings and humiliation, sexual and gender-based violence and mock execution.
State authorities also failed to intervene in at least seven cases where protesters were killed by armed civilian groups known as colectivos. This came amid the Government’s increased reliance on military-civilian coordination to maintain public order in recent years.
“The policing of protests and the system to authorise them are deeply concerning. The system is designed to prevent and discourage peaceful assembly, often violently,” said Paul Seils.
“Of particular concern is the systematic practice of torture and cruel treatment of people detained in protests carried out, not by rogue elements, but as part of a clear policy.”
A compromised judiciary
The violations the Mission investigated took place amid a gradual breakdown of democratic institutions and the rule of law, including an erosion of judicial independence, in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s judiciary failed to serve as a check on other State actors. Further investigation is needed into the extent to which undue political influence has hampered judicial independence.
“The violations must stop. And impunity must end. Venezuelan authorities must immediately carry out prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into the violations and crimes, bringing perpetrators to account and providing justice for victims. Victims must have full redress for the harm they suffered,” said Marta Valiñas.
“Other jurisdictions in accordance to their national laws, as well as the International Criminal Court, should also consider legal actions against individuals responsible for violations and crimes the Mission identified.”