The United Nations condemned the continued violence in Venezuela Friday, highlighting the government’s use of force to quell protests, even as it criticized all sides in the conflict.
The U.N. statement came after the Venezuelan National Guard and police expelled more than 200 youth protesters who were demonstrating peacefully at a campsite in front of the U.N. development Programme offices in the capital of Caracas and other parts of the city last week. Most of the protesters were detained, according to the U.N. The Venezuelan government accused the demonstrators of using the camps to incite violence.
A series of anti-government protests have persisted since February, motivated largely by the leftwing government’s heavy handed dealings with the political opposition, out of control crime, and the Nicolás Maduro administration’s economic policies, which have resulted in shortages of food staples and basic items like toilet paper. The protests have led to 44 deaths and more than 800 injuries, according to La Opinión, including both demonstrators and government supporters.
“We unequivocally condemn all violence by all sides in Venezuela,” spokesman Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement. “We are particularly concerned at the reported excessive use of force by the authorities in response to protests.”
Colville went on to call for the government “to ensure that people are not penalized for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression and for sustained and inclusive, peaceful dialogue based on Venezuela’s human rights obligations.”
The protests originally launched by students evolved into a major confrontation with the government. The Maduro administration has faced mounting international criticism for its handling of the demonstrations.
A Human Rights Watch report released this month documented 45 cases of abuse allegedly committed by security forces against protesters, including beatings, psychological abuse and instances of torture.
“The scale of rights violations we found in Venezuela and the collaboration of security forces and justice officials in committing them shows these aren’t isolated incidents or the excesses of a few rogue actors,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Rather, they are the part of an alarming pattern of abuse that is the worst we have seen in Venezuela in years.”
Several U.S. politicians, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) have called for the U.S. to hit Venezuela with sanctions.
Maduro brushed off the possibility last week.
“Now they’re going round with this stupid idea that they’re going to sanction us,” Maduro said Friday, according to the Guardian. “It’s hardly worth responding to the stupid things the imperialist elites in the North do. They can keep their threats and stupidities.”