GENEVA - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is calling on Venezuela to release all political prisoners and end the repression of political and civil rights.
In November, Penal Forum, a Venezuelan network of criminal defense lawyers reported there were 400 government opponents in Venezuela prisons. Bachelet presented an update of conditions in Venezuela before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
While the report presents a generally a bleak picture of human rights in Venezuela, Bachelet said there are a few bright spots. She welcomed the recent pardon by President Nicolas Maduro's government of 110 political opponents who had been detained for months and the release of 40 others.
However, she said many dissidents and human rights defenders still are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for exercising their civic and democratic rights. She said they too should be released.
"There are still cases of repression of peaceful protesters in the state of emergency that has been in place since March, including the detention of people protesting because of low wages and the lack of public services and the lack of fuel.... There are also restrictions on freedom of expression. This includes the application of the anti-hatred legislation, and also legislation against human rights activists," Bachelet said.
The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 because of persecution and economic hardship. Many have since returned home because COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible for them to earn a living in their countries of refuge.
Bachelet said she is concerned some Venezuelan authorities are stigmatizing migrants returning to the country. She said many are being blamed for bringing COVID-19 to Venezuela and some are being detained.
"There are protocols which apply to detention centers concerning COVID-19 but it is important to improve the situation concerning access to water, health care and medication and to ensure continuous contact with the lawyers and relatives-be it in person or through virtual means," Bachelet said.
Venezuela's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Jorge Valero, lashed out at what he called a small group of hostile countries who backed a resolution at the council directing the high commissioner to monitor the situation in his country.
He rejected the high commissioner's report, saying it distorted the truth and was based on biased information used to fuel a media campaign against Venezuela.