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UN Calls for Release of Colombian Nationals Detained in Venezuela

FILE - Colombian police officers and soldiers patrol the border between Colombia and Venezuela, in Paraguachon, Colombia, Sept. 9, 2015. The U.N. human rights office is asking for the release of 59 Colombian nationals being detained in Venezuela.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on the Venezuelan government to release 59 Colombian nationals held without charge for more than two years under horrific conditions.

The detainees were picked up during security sweeps by the Venezuelan police and are being held in prisons that are "monstrous beyond belief," according to human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

"Overcrowding is rife. 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," she said.

In addition, many detainees who suffer from very serious illnesses do not get the medical attention they require.

Shamdasani says the 59 detainees have been accused of being Colombian paramilitaries, but no evidence or charges have been brought against them. Last November, she says, a Venezuelan judge ruled they should be unconditionally released, but the order has not been respected.

"As far as international human rights law is concerned, their detention could very well amount to arbitrary detention and this case has been referred to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention," Shamdasani said.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on Venezuelan authorities to comply with the judge's ruling and to free the men without delay.

The Venezuelan government had no comment on the remarks, but at last month's U.N. General Assembly, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed the United States and international media for manufacturing stories to justify intervention in his country.