The United States government, as well as many in the media and punditry, has consistently laid blame for the rising death toll on the Venezuelan government. Last week, in prepared remarks for an OAS meeting on Venezuela, the U.S. representative stated:
The United States notes with concern that the situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate since the Permanent Council last met on February 19. The death toll was 13 then, it is now at least 19 and we are gravely disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.
There is no doubt that some members of the Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force – in fact, at least 14 of them have been arrested for these abuses. The Venezuelan government is not denying this fact, something recognized by the Secretary General of the OAS yesterday when he stated:
Much of this is recognized by both the Government and the opposition; nobody denies it, everyone says something must be done about it.
Far from trying to hide the role of some members of the security forces in human rights abuses or the deaths of citizens, the Venezuelan Attorney General (AG) has released statements to the press almost daily detailing exactly how many deaths there have been, how many individuals have been detained, released and remain in jail; how many human rights violations have been documented and are being investigated; and updates on the status of investigations into abuses.
Each death is as unnecessary and devastating as the one prior, but not all are the same and to portray the violence as one sided – from either side – is both incorrect and misleading. While the death toll tragically reached 21 on Thursday, March 6, it’s important to note that as many have been killed either crashing into barricades or by wires strung across streets as have been killed while protesting. In the last week, two members of the National Guard have been shot and killed while attempting to remove barricades blocking streets.
To be sure, more needs to be done to ensure that violations of human rights by both government security forces and protesters are stopped altogether. There have been allegations that some of those detained have been tortured, not provided access to lawyers or been subject to other forms of abuse. These should be properly investigated. However by holding those found responsible for earlier deaths accountable, it appears as though the most serious abuses on the part of security forces have at least begun to decrease. This may also be an indication that such violations are not state-sanctioned. While press reports often have varying accounts of the circumstances surrounding deaths, reports indicate that no protestor has been killed since February 24. Seven others have died since then, but there is no indication of the involvement of security forces in any of those deaths.
Earlier this week, the AG stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official that turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” On March 6, the AG, Luisa Ortega Díaz, met with PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights group. Following up on that meeting and at the urging of PROVEA, Díaz met with representatives from Foro Penal, another human rights group that has been documenting cases of abuse and torture during the protests.
Following the meeting with the AG, PROVEA stated that:
We believe that the most important things to come from this meeting were an opening up of direct channels of communication with senior officials of the Attorney General’s office to send complaints regarding [human rights] violations and a mutual spirit of dialogue for continuing to explore a closer cooperation to advance human rights protections in Venezuela.
On March 7, after the meeting with Foro Penal, El Universal reported that the AG “promised to review the information provided by the Foro Penal” and designated an official “to establish a direct channel of communication between the institution” and the human rights group. The meeting already seems to have had some impact, as the AG announced that it had requested the proceedings against 11 students detained in Carabobo to be nullified.