Thursday, July 4, 2019

U.N. report highlights extrajudicial executions in Venezuela (July 4, 2019)

Venezuelan security forces appear to be carrying out extrajudicial executions, which they stage to look like the victims resisted arrest, according to a new U.N. report. Government figures showed that deaths ascribed to criminals resisting arrest numbered 5,287 last year and 1,569 by May 19 this year. The report said a "shockingly high" number of these deaths appeared to be extrajudicial executions carried out by the Special Action Forces (FAES) of the police, and that they form part of a strategy by the government of President Nicolas Maduro aimed at "neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the government", which accelerated since 2016. (ReutersAssociated PressEfecto Cocuyo)

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will present the report to the U.N. Human Rights Council tomorrow. It urges Venezuela's government to take immediate action "to halt and remedy the grave violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights documented in the country," and warns that otherwise "the unprecedented outflow of Venezuelan migrants and refugees will continue, and the living conditions of those who remain will worsen."

The report particularly emphasizes violations committed by pro-government civilian groups, known as colectivos, which "have contributed to the deteriorating situation by exercising social control and helping repress demonstrations. The UN Human Rights Office has documented 66 deaths during protests between January and May 2019, 52 attributable to Government security forces or colectivos."

The report also details how "State institutions have been steadily militarized over the past decade. During the reporting period, civil and military forces have allegedly been responsible for arbitrary detentions; ill-treatment and torture of people critical of the Government and their relatives; sexual and gender-based violence in detention and during visits; and excessive use of force during demonstrations."

A naval officer died in state custody last week with apparent signs of torture. (See Monday's post and below briefs.)

The report also notes that as of 31 May 2019, 793 people remained arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and that so far this year, 22 deputies of the National Assembly, including its President, have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity.

More Venezuela
  • In an interview with the Associated Press, former Venezuelan intelligence chief accused President Nicolás Maduro of personally commissioning abuses, including arbitrary detentions and the planting of evidence against opponents.
  • The government has not permitted independent experts to examine the body of naval officer Rafael Acosta, who died in detention last weekend. His family, human rights activists, the political opposition, international governments and the U.N. have all called for an impartial investigation of the death, which the family says resulted from extensive torture. Of the 633 political prisoners tallied by NGO Foro Penal, 109 belong to the military. (El País)
  • The opposition has called for anti-government protests tomorrow. It is Venezuela's independence day, and demonstrators are galvanized by the Acosta case and that of a teen who was blinded in a recent police repression of a protest. But protest-fatigue is also taking a toll, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A man was detained yesterday by the FAES and accused of planning a terrorist attack for tomorrow. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Intercept Brazil journalists threatened, investigated by authorities

Brazilian federal police reportedly asked a money-laundering unit at Brazil’s finance ministry to investigate the “financial activities” of journalist Glenn Greenwald, according to right-wing site O Antagonista. Brazil’s Bar Association, journalists and opposition lawmakers reacted with outrage at the attack against the U.S. journalist, reports the Guardian

Greenwald co-founded the Intercept website, which last month published explosive exposes detailing collaboration between anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro and prosecutorial teams. The secret trove of communication appears to show political biases in the landmark Lava Jato corruption investigation led by Moro, who is currently Minister of Justice. (See June 10's post and June 13's.) 

The latest report based on secret communications between the Lava Jato prosecutorial team call into question the testimony implicating former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a corruption scheme. Folha de S. Paulo reports that investigators doubted the testimony of Léo Pinheiro, former OAS construction company president, until -- after several versions -- his story alleged that Lula obtained a seaside apartment as a bribe. The contractors version of events involving Lula was presented a year after he entered plea bargain negotiations with prosecutors. Lula has consistently denied ownership of said apartment. (Rio TimesTeleSUR)

This week, U.N. and IACHR freedom of expression experts voiced concern over the threats, offensive remarks made by authorities and the intimidation against Greenwald and his family. Last month Greenwald, his husband lawmaker David Miranda, and members of the Intercept Brazil's editorial team received threats of death and violence. (Committee to Protect Journalists

Greenwald spoke to lawmakers last week, and said Moro's response to the exposé was threatening. "All the time Sergio Moro is calling us allies of hackers, trying to say that we had involvement in trying to get the documents," the journalist said. 

The Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has also issued a statement denouncing the attacks on Greenwald and The Intercept. "Attempts to intimidate and silence an outlet are actions typical of authoritarian contexts and can not be tolerated in the democracy that governs the country," the organization said. Concerning Moro's statement that The Intercept is a "site allied to criminal hackers," Abraji said it was "a worrisome manifestation of a minister who has already issued a number of public statements regarding the role of the press and freedom of expression." (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest rose more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago. It's the second consecutive month of rising forest destruction, according to to data from Brazil’s space agency. (Guardian)
  • Critics say Brazilian authorities were politically influenced in their new ban on Cuban cigars. (Guardian)
  • A new presidential decree in Brazil eased visa requirements for citizens from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia. The move backtracks on previous requirements based on reciprocity -- charging fees to visitors from countries that charge Brazilians for tourist visas -- but aim instead to increase tourism. (New York Times)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque is wasting a historic opportunity to preside over the implementation of the 2016 FARC peace deal. Though he is ideologically opposed, it would be a pragmatic move with benefits for Duque's stagnating administration, hampered by plummeting popularity and polarization, argues Martha Maya in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • At least 27 people have died after a lobster-fishing boat capsized off the Atlantic coast of Honduras. (Guardian)
  • Guatemalan authorities rounded up 96 people as part of an operation aimed at thwarting undocumented migrants from traveling towards the U.S. Authorities said those taken into custody include Hondurans, Salvadorans, Haitians, Brazilians and one person of African origin. (CNN)
  • The Mexican government on Wednesday began a "permanent deployment" of federal forces along the Suchiate River on the border with Guatemala to prevent the entry of migrants, reports AFP.
  • Oil theft incidences continue to rise this year in Mexico, but the total quantity pilfered has dropped drastically due to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's high-profile efforts to stop specialized organized crime groups. But InSight Crime is critical of what it calls a "futile game of whac-a-mole," that lacks staying power.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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