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HRW Finds Venezuela Denying Rights to Opposition Protesters

Opposition supporters march protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas February 22, 2014.
Opposition supporters march protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas February 22, 2014.
VOA News
A human rights group says Venezuela's legal system has long ignored the unlawful use of force by Venezuela's security services against anti-government demonstrators.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says in a report that dozens of unarmed protesters have been subjected to serious physical and psychological abuse during protests in which 41 people have died since February.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the group, says the scale of rights violations, and the involvement of security forces and justice officials, shows that attacks "are not isolated incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors." He says they are "part of an alarming pattern of abuse that is the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years."

Venezuela's government says 15 officials are being investigated for suspected human rights violations, but it blames the protesters for most of abuses.  

Human Rights Watch, which visited Venezuela earlier this year, said victims were denied basic due process. It said many were held incommunicado and denied access to legal counsel until minutes before they went to court, often in the middle of the night.

The New York-based organization said it has documented at least 10 cases serious enough to be considered torture.  

Abuses have included broken bones, denial of medical treatment and threats of rape or death.

The 103-page report said security forces have allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack unarmed civilians, and in some cases openly collaborated with the gangs.
 
Human Rights Watch called for Venezuela to end the abuses, investigate ones that have occurred and bring those responsible for committing them to justice.  It said acts of violence and abuse committed by other parties should be investigated and prosecuted as well.  
 
The report says the government told the rights group that 200 security officers have been injured and at least nine killed.

Human Rights Watch says it gathered extensive material evidence, including photographs, video footage, medical reports, and judicial rulings, and reviewed government reports and official statements regarding protest activity and the response of security forces.

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