Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force and arbitrarily detained thousands of people over months of sometimes deadly anti-regime protests, the UN's human rights office said Tuesday, citing interviews with demonstrators and witnesses.
"Witness accounts suggest that security forces ... have systematically used disproportionate force to instill fear, crush dissent and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions," the UN office said.
More than 120 people have died in protest-linked incidents since spring as critics accused leftist President Nicolas Maduro of illegitimately consolidating power, including stacking the Supreme Court with loyalists and holding an election for a new legislative assembly packed virtually with only his backers.
"The responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of government," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.
Among the team's findings:
-- Security forces allegedly are responsible at least 46 deaths. Other, pro-government armed groups are accused of being responsible for 27 deaths. The UN report said it does not have details for all the deaths.
-- Some demonstrators have attacked security officers; eight officers have been killed during the demonstrations.
-- Pro-government armed groups "routinely break into protests on motorcycles, wielding firearms and harassing or in some cases shooting at people."
-- Security forces fired tear gas and buckshot and anti-regime demonstrators without warning. Several interviewees "said tear gas canisters were used at short range, and marbles, buckshot and nuts and bolts were used as ammunition."