A council to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in recent disturbances has been created by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro signed a presidential decree creating the National Council for Human Rights in the presidential palace on Thursday.
The council will function as a “coordinating body to support and encourage…public policies aimed at guaranteeing the free exercise of human rights and their protection and preservation,” according to the president.
Three of the fifteen positions on the council will be reserved for non-government human rights organisations. However, the president is yet to confirm which organisations will be offered seats, stating possible candidates’ “credentials and track records” will be reviewed by the council itself.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has been invited by the president to select a group of human rights experts to join the council.
Maduro has already stated that government figures participating in the council will include Vice President Jorge Arreaza, the ministers of the interior, defence, communes and social movements, foreign affairs and the High Commissioner for Peace. Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, President of the Supreme Court Gladys Gutierrez and National Public Defender Ciro Araujo will also participate in the council.
Two additional representatives will also be selected by the National Assembly (AN).
The council is a product of a series of recommendations issued by a UNASUR delegation that visited Venezuela recently to promote dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition.
Among other recommendations, the international delegation called on both the government and opposition to refrain from violence and inflammatory language. It also called on both sides to participate in peace talks, which could include an international moderator.
The UNASUR delegation will return to Venezuela on Monday to further discuss options for peace talks, Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño announced earlier this week. The group includes foreign ministers of the 12-nation regional organisation, including Patiño.
“The first visit was to meet, something like a handshake,” Patiño stated, according to Venezuelan state news agency AVN. The Ecuadorian minister emphasised that the delegation will not “interfere or judge anyone in Venezuela”.
“Our job is to accompany, assist and advise the Venezuelan government in its dialogue with the opposition,” Patiño stated.
“There is also a possibility that a representative of the Vatican could join the meetings,” he added.
However, Venezuela’s largest opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has so far boycotted peace talks with the government.
The leader of the Voluntad Popular party, Leopoldo Lopez also remains in custody, despite the MUD demanding his release as a precondition for talks. Today, Attorney General Ortega formally announced that charges would be brought against Lopez, who has been held by authorities since February. The prominent right-wing figure faces charges, including incitement to criminal acts, that carry up to 14 years imprisonment.
Members of the government have accused Lopez of promoting violence, though his supporters have claimed the charges are politically motivated.
Since the opposition took to the streets in February to demand Maduro’s removal, 39 people have been killed and more than 600 injured amid ongoing protests, and the use of barricades by violent anti-government groups.
Ortega warned that “everyone” responsible for street violence will be “punished”, “no matter who is involved”.
“People have tended to retreat into their homes for fear of those belligerent, aggressive, violent actions that have taken place around their houses,” Ortega stated.
“Many Venezuelans have felt fear because of their political leanings, some have been persecuted and threatened by their neighbours of being doused with flammable substances,” the attorney general stated.
According to Ortega, the government is currently investigating more than 100 possible cases of human rights violations, most of which allegedly involve misconduct by security forces.
“We have been transparent in showing the figures, we have shown what has happened and how investigations have proceeded, and that we are responding immediately [to allegations of abuse],” Ortega stated.
However, today two Spanish government officials reportedly told newspaper El Pais that Madrid is suspending the sale of riot control equipment to Venezuela.
Last year, Spain agreed to sell US$$3.5 million in anti-riot gear to Venezuela, according to the Spanish government.
The attorney general also stated that an investigation has been launched into clashes at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) yesterday. Both pro-government and opposition students, along with state security forces were involved. At least two students were seriously injured.
Today, the opposition have held another march today through Caracas’ wealthy Atlamira neighbourhood to protest the charges against Lopez.
More violence also erupted yesterday in Valencia, Carabobo state. The National Guard (GNB) battled opposition groups into the early evening. According to Ultimas Noticias, soldiers faced armed, masked individuals who burned oil in the streets.
In Merida, opposition groups attacked workers trying to clear barricades blocking roads. According to AVN, yesterday the workers were clearing the road for the state tourism company Cormetur when they were attacked with stones and improvised projectile weapons. At least 10 barricades were blocking the main roads of Las Americas and Los Proceres.
Merida’s trolleybus system has also been vandalised. According to the president of the trolleybus operator, Trolmerca’s Simon Figuera, molotov cocktails were thrown at a station by a “violent group”. Figuera has blamed opposition protesters.
“We are very concerned by the actions of these people. It is the second attack we received this week,” Figuera stated.