CARACAS, Venezuela – UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet, beckoned Venezuela to free incarcerated protesters and declared the crisis-wracked nation faced a “serious” humanitarian situation.
Her remarks came after a three-day visit to the country on the request of embattled president Nicolas Maduro, who has faced accusations of cracking down on political opponents amid widespread hyperinflation and deficiencies of essential goods.
“I call on the authorities to release all those who are detained or deprived of their liberty for exercising their civil rights in a peaceful manner,” Bachelet said, referring to the hundreds of Maduro regime adversaries who are currently imprisoned.
The UN rights chief met families of the detainees, many of whom are implicated of “conspiracy” to topple the government. She also talked with families of people who died during the anti-Maduro protests of 2017.
Rights groups had urged Bachelet, a former Chilean president, to raise the issue of 715 people they claimed have been imprisoned for political reasons, a claim Maduro’s government rejects. Maduro, meanwhile, stated he would honour Bachelet’s recommendations.
“I told her that she can count on me, as president, to take her suggestions, her recommendations and her proposals seriously,” Maduro stated, adding that people accused of human rights abuses would be prosecuted.
Bachelet also said she had appointed delegates to remain in the country with the mandate “to provide assistance and technical advice, but also, very importantly, to continue to monitor the human rights situation across Venezuela.”
The high commissioner’s visit came amid the country’s ongoing economic and political crisis that the UN says has caused some four million Venezuelans to flee since 2015 amid collapsing government services and shortages of food.
Bachelet has previously criticised Maduro’s response to the crisis and urged for Caracas to recognise “everyone’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
Yet it was the Maduro administration who called her to Venezuela, saying the visit would be a chance to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the “negative repercussions” of sanctions that prevent it from trading its oil to the US.
Bachelet has also levelled sharp criticisms of US sanctions against Maduro, forced by president Donald Trump, increasing anxieties that constraints on trade with Venezuela could have negative reverberations for the overall population in a nation where the trading of oil is 96 percent of the budget.
During her visit, Bachelet also spoke with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognised as Venezuela’s interim president by some 50 nations, including the US. She called for peace talks between Guaidó’s opposition and the government and expressed support of Norway’s attempts to broker discussions.