United Nations issues warning to Venezuela: Deaths squads, torture, 'grave violations' must end

Protesters in Venezuela confront official members of the armed forces during a protest in Caracas Venezuela

Its report accuses Venezuela of using security forces to send young men to death squads and shares fears around a chilling number of potential extrajudicial killings taking place.

Families of 20 men described how masked men dressed in black from Venezuela's Special Action Forces (FAES) arrived in black pick-up trucks without licence plates. "They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had "resisted authority". The U.N. says that more than four million people have left the country in recent years, putting strains in particular on neighbours Brazil and Colombia, as well as Peru. "I have faithfully conveyed their voices, and those of civil society, as well as the human rights violations documented in this report, to the relevant authorities".

Venezuelan officials insisted the report overlooked visits by United Nations observers in March to jails, hospitals, public-housing programs and distribution centres for medicine and food, and said it "omits in its entirety the achievements and advances achieved" by the country in the field of human rights.

While the economic woes of Venezuela began well before any sectoral sanctions were imposed, the report says that the latest economic sanctions are further exacerbating the effects of the economic and humanitarian crises.

The UN report came after former Venezuela spy chief Manuel Cristopher Figuera told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Maduro's administration was a "criminal enterprise". The latter, head of the country's National Assembly, declared himself interim President in January and has the backing of over 50 countries, including the USA and most of Latin America.

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"A Catholic priest in Caracas said to me: 'This is not about politics, but about the suffering of the people.' This report too is not about politics, geopolitics, worldwide relations or anything other than being about the human rights to which every Venezuelan is entitled", she added.

A national guard hydrant truck sprays opponents to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during protests in Caracas, Venezuela.

In a report released Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Venezuela to take immediate steps to address "grave violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights" in the country.

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". Four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, all but 700,000 of them since the end of 2015, United Nations aid agencies say. After the opposition won a majority of National Assembly seats in 2016, measures aimed at "neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the Government" have increased and accelerated steadily through a series of laws policies and practices which "has restricted the democratic space".

"During my visit to Venezuela, I was able to hear first-hand the accounts of victims of State violence and their demands for justice", Ms Bachelet said.

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