Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN Human Rights Chief Urges Venezuelan Government to Free Jailed Dissidents

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, left, is greeted by Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, as first lady Cilia Flores looks on, at Miraflores Presidential Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, June 21, 2019.

U.N. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet is urging the Venezuelan government to free hundreds of jailed dissidents who were arrested for participating in peaceful protests.

Her request came at the end of a three-day visit Friday to Venezuela during which she met with President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.

At a Caracas news conference before leaving the country, Bachelet called on the government "to release all those who are detained or deprived of their liberty for exercising their rights in a peaceful manner."

Rights groups have been pressuring Bachelet to advocate on behalf of more than 700 people they say have been jailed for political reasons, a claim Maduro denies.

'Serious' humanitarian crisis

Bachelet, who said Venezuela faced a "serious" humanitarian crisis, also met with activists and victims of human rights violations, many of whom have been accused of conspiracy to overthrow the government.

"It was deeply painful to hear the desire of the victims, of their families, to obtain justice in the face of serious human rights violations," she sald.

Maduro said that he will take the recommendations of Bachelet seriously. After meeting Bachelet, Maduro said, "There are always going to be different criteria in every country, but I told her that she can count on me, as president, to take her suggestions, her recommendations and her proposals seriously."

Earlier, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said that Bachelet will leave two delegates in Venezuela to monitor the country’s human rights situation, a development Bachelet confirmed.

Guaido said Bachelet’s team would investigate issues related to the country’s lack of food and medicine. They will also look into allegations President Maduro’s government has violated human rights while cracking down on the opposition.

Some activists released

The trip to Venezuela was Bachelet's first as chief of the U.N. watchdog. Her predecessor, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, was repeatedly denied access to the country for what he considered the government's refusal to recognize the humanitarian crisis.

Maduro appears to have taken a more diplomatic approach this time, as he released on the eve of her arrival 28 opposition activists many considered political prisoners.

Bachelet arrived in Venezuela at the invitation of the government. Her visit preceded a three-week U.N. Human Rights Council session that begins on June 24.

The U.S. and other Western states are expected to denounce Maduro's government for its alleged use of excessive force and mismanagement, which has led to chronic shortages of essentials, such as food and medicine.

The U.N. says the political and economic crisis in the oil-rich country has forced some 4 million people to flee the country since 2015.

Bachelet also has criticized sanctions imposed against Maduro's government by U.S. President Donald Trump, contending trade restrictions on trade could adversely affect the general population.