Conditions in Venezuela’s prisons are “beyond monstrous”, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said, before calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the death of a leading political opponent of the Government. Issuing the alert in Geneva, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that there were specific concerns for the well-being of 59 Colombian nationals, who’ve been held for more than two years without being charged.
They were picked up in a security operation in 2016 and are now sharing a single cell at a facility in the country’s capital, Caracas, Ms Shamdasani said.
“The 59 were accused of being Colombian paramilitaries but to date, no evidence or charges have been brought against them,” Ms Shamdasani explained. “In November 2017, a Venezuelan judge had ruled that they should be unconditionally released. However, they remain in detention.”
Asked about Fernando Alban, a critic of the government whose death was announced on Monday at the headquarters of the country’s intelligence services, Ms Shamdasani confirmed the need for an independent, transparent investigation to clarify reports that he had jumped to his death from the 10th floor.
“There are so many different reports, and quite a lot of speculation on exactly what happened,” Ms Shamdasani said. “On whether Mr Alban committed suicide, whether he was thrown, whether he was ill-treated, which is why we need an independent, transparent investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death.”
On the subject of the Colombian detainees, Ms Shamdasani explained that the men were rounded up during so-called Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLP), which the Venezuelan Government had said were designed to break up criminal gangs and bring criminals to justice.
Calling on the authorities to comply with the judge's ruling and free the Colombians, Ms Shamdasani underlined the dire conditions in the country’s prisons.
“Overcrowding is rife,” she said. “The infrastructure is infested with rats and insects. Not all detainees have access to natural light. And in many detention centers across the country, detainees have limited access to food and water, including drinking water.”
The deteriorating human rights situation in Venezuela was detailed in a recent UN report. Published in June, it highlighted the accelerating erosion of the rule of law amid unprecedented mass demonstrations and the excessive use of force in security operations.
Allegations of extrajudicial killings linked to OLP raids first surfaced in July 2015, the report found, after an operation took place in one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in Caracas, Cota 905, in which 14 people died and 134 were arrested.
Citing information from the Attorney General’s Office, the OHCHR report noted that between July 2015 and March 2017, 505 people were killed in OLPs, including four women and 24 children.
Citing civil society records, the UN human rights office report noted that “at least 570 people, including 35 children, were arbitrarily detained” in Venezuela between August 2017 and April 2018.