Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tasked the country's intelligence service with detaining opposition figures without the necessary "judicial order" for doing so, Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer from a United Nation's fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in Venezuela, has alleged.
"The way [Venezuelan intelligence agency] SEBIN worked, particularly the SEBIN, was to do intelligence on people beforehand and these people that were targeted - and we have reasonable grounds to believe that the President Maduro did give orders to the director of SEBIN as to who to target," Cox said, speaking at a briefing Wednesday, his comments cited by Reuters.
"After that these people were surveilled, information was gathered, their communications were intercepted and finally they would be detained without judicial order, just because there was such an order by the president. So we have involvement and contribution to the crime by Mr. Maduro, either directly through the chain of command and sometimes circumventing the chain of command and giving the direct order," Cox added.
The UN mission's chair, Marta Valinas from Portugal, said her mission had "found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which - including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture - amount to crimes against humanity."
The Valinas-led panel was formed in September 2019, and carried out its investigation from outside Venezuela, with Caracas calling the probe a "hostile initiative" and refusing to cooperate. The report was commissioned by the Human Rights Council on the initative of the Lima Group, some of whose members have sought the overthrow of the country's democratically elected government. 19 countries voted in favour of the probe, 21 abstained, and seven voted against.
Due to lack of access to Venezuela itself, the UN report based its findings on interviews with alleged victims and their relatives, as well as former officials, videos and social media content.
The Venezuelan government has yet to respond to the probe's claims.
Previously, Caracas has slammed Western powers and their Latin American allies for targeting Venezuela with crushing sanctions, asset seizures and other restrictions, saying these forms of "economic terrorism" amount to "human rights violations" of their own. Earlier this year, Caracas promised to appeal to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over Washington's "criminal" attempts to impede its trade in natural resources.
Venezuela was engulfed in a political crisis in January 2019, when the US and its allies recognized opposition leader and self-proclaimed 'interim president' Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader. Venezuelan authorities have accused Guaido and his foreign curators of trying to orchestrate a coup d'etat aimed at handing the country's vast oil and mineral wealth to private and foreign interests.