Venezuela death squads kill young men, stage scenes

Michelle Bachelet with President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

Twenty-two people released by Venezuela's government on Thursday include the emblematic cases of judge Maria Afiuni and journalist Braulio Jatar, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Friday.

Venezuela appreciates "the recognition by the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the US economic sanctions aggravate the economic crisis and violate human rights", the official said.

The government went on to criticize the fact that the report downplays the consequences of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and ignores research on the subject, including a recent study published by Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) which estimated that 40,000 people have died since 2017 as a result of United States coercive measures.

The rights chief said her teams had been working on the report, which covers a period from January 2018 almost to the present, for a long time.

Deputy Foreign Minister William Castillo insisted the report from High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet "does not reflect the reality in our country".

Venezuela is caught in an economic crisis and a political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro's government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido.

On Venezuela's national Independence Day, rival demonstrations kicked off in the capital city Caracas, fueled by a new United Nations report describing political detentions and thousands of extrajudicial killings in the country.

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Government figures showed that deaths ascribed to "criminals resisting arrest" numbered 5,287 last year and 1,569 by May 19 this year, Reuters reports with reference to the UN.

Bachelet's report, which followed her visit to Caracas in June, said Venezuelan security forces were sending death squads to murder young men.

She decried attacks against "actual or perceived political opponents and human rights defenders ranging from threats and smear campaigns to arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, killings and enforced disappearance".

In addition to the censure of media outlets, the report indicates that "the Government has blocked independent news websites and regularly blocked the main social media platforms" within Venezuela.

It also said that "as the economic crisis deepened, the authorities began using social programmes in a discriminatory manner, based on political grounds, and as an instrument of social control". Interviewees report the progressive scarcity and unaffordability of food, which has meant fewer meals of lower nutritional value, high levels of malnutrition, and a particularly adverse impact on women, of whom many reported spending an average of 10 hours per day in line for food. It also reports on the collapse of the country's health system, which is described as "dire, with hospitals lacking staff, supplies, medicines, and electricity to keep vital machinery running". Reports said he died from extreme force and had been beaten and electrocuted. "We should all be able to agree that all Venezuelans deserve a better life, free from fear and with access to adequate food, water, healthcare, housing and all other basic human needs", Bachelet said.

The report urged Caracas to "dissolve" the shadowy security force.

Ms Bachelet is pleading Venezuelan authorities to take immediate steps to address recommendations made.

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