The United Nations’ human rights office says most of the 125 deaths in four months of anti-government street protests in Venezuela were due to the “widespread and systematic use” of excessive force by security forces.
The office based its figures on preliminary findings of an investigation made public Tuesday. The report says 46 of the deaths were at the hands of security forces, while pro-government armed groups were responsible for 27 deaths.
Investigators say it is not clear who is behind the remaining deaths.
In addition, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement that more than 5,000 people have been arbitrarily detained in Venezuela since the unrest began, with over 1,000 still in custody, and that detainees have been subjected to ill-treatment and even torture, with tactics including “electric shocks, beatings… suffocation with gas, and threats of killings, and in some cases threats of sexual violence.”
“These violations have occurred amid the breakdown of the rule of law in Venezuela,” Zeid said, adding that “Responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of government.”
The office based its findings on 135 interviewers conducted over June and July with victims and their families, witnesses, journalists and others.
Venezuela’s social and political turmoil worsened when President Nicolas Maduro swore in an unpopular constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The assembly has already made its first major move, dismissing Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a former Maduro ally turned vociferous opponent.
Maduro has said a new constitution will bring peace and stability. The opposition said the constituent assembly is packed with Maduro supporters — including his wife and son — and predicted the new body will try to dissolve the opposition-led national assembly and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship.