GENEVA - The Venezuelan government has done little to clamp down on the violent, brutal behavior of criminal groups who control mining in a region largely inhabited by indigenous communities, according to a U.N. report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council Wednesday.
The U.N. Human Rights Office noted that internal migration to the Arco Minero del Orinoco region has increased dramatically in the last few years because of the country's economic crisis, and miners' need to feed themselves and their families makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said the groups who control the mines impose their own rules on workers through violence and extortion, which includes child labor, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and exposure to hazardous conditions and diseases, including mercury contamination.
The report said miners, some as young as 9 years old, work 12-hour shifts under dangerous conditions without protection. Workers pay 10 to 20 percent of their earnings to the criminal groups and another 15 to 30 percent to the mill owners who extract the gold from the rocks.
Lack of transparency makes it difficult to know what, if anything, the Venezuelan government has done to regulate mining activity and curb illegal operations, Al-Nashif said.
"Despite the considerable presence of military and security forces inside the Arco Minero region, and efforts to tackle criminal activities, authorities have yet to fully comply with their obligation under international law to investigate and sanction violations of human rights related to mining operations," she said.
Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Jorge Valero, rejected the report, saying his government was not asked for any input in compiling it.
He said his country faces challenges, but blamed most of those on restrictions and sanctions imposed on his government by the United States. Those sanctions target Venezuelan industries such as petroleum, gold mining, and banking — for what U.S. President Donald Trump has said is the Nicolas Maduro government's record of human rights abuses. These include the arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens.
Amnesty International's country report last year said Venezuela continued to experience an unprecedented human rights crisis, listing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against government critics.