Venezuela should release jailed opponents: UN rights chief – Aljazeera.com

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on Venezuela to release jailed dissidents Friday and said the country faces a “serious” humanitarian situation.

Her comments came at the end of a three-day visit to the country at the invitation of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, who has faced allegations of cracking down on political opponents amid rampant hyperinflation and shortages of basic 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,” said Bachelet, referring to the hundreds of Maduro government opponents who are currently jailed.

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The UN rights chief met relatives of these detainees, many of whom are accused of “conspiracy” to overthrow the government. She also spoke with relatives of people who died during the anti-Maduro protests of 2017.

Rights groups had pushed Bachelet to raise the issue of 715 people they say have been jailed for political reasons, a claim Maduro’s government rejects.

‘First step’

Meanwhile, Maduro said he would respect the recommendations made by Bachelet, a former Chilean president.

“We have taken a first step towards a smoother, more cooperative relationship on the human rights of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said, who thanked Bachelet for having responded to the invitation of the Bolivarian government.

“I told her that she can count on me, as president, to take her suggestions, her recommendations and her proposals seriously,” Maduro said, 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 the government’s response to the crisis and called for Caracas to respect “everyone’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression”.

Yet it was the Maduro government who invited her to Venezuela, saying the visit would be an opportunity to show its adherence to human rights and the “negative repercussions” of sanctions that prevent it from selling its oil.

Some analysts believe her visit was positive for the country.

“One of the main issues in Venezuela has to do with those related to human rights,”  Ronal Rodriguez, a professor and researcher with the Venezuelan Observatory think-tank at the University of El Rosario, told Al Jazeera. 

“The fact that the high commissioner visited the country is important, especially because, in recent years, the government has ignored the deterioration in the matter.”

Bachelet is expected to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council in the next month. 

UN and Venezuela

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido leave after a meeting at the Venezuelan national assembly in Caracas [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

Bachelet has also been critical of US sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump against Maduro, raising concerns that restrictions on trade with Venezuela could have negative repercussions for the general population in a country where 96 percent of the budget is based on oil.

During her visit, Bachelet also met opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognised as Venezuela’s interim president by some 50 countries, including the US.

Negotiations needed

She called for dialogue between the government and Guaido’s opposition and spoke in support of Norway’s efforts to broker talks.

Delegates from both sides met there for the first time in May, but progress has since stalled.

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“The fate of more than 30 million Venezuelans lies in the will and ability of their leaders to place the human rights of the people above any personal political or ideological ambition,” Bachelet said. 

“I understand that some are sceptical that these sorts of negotiations will bear fruit, but the serious situation in the country demands that the leaders try,” she added.

Analysts say that opening spaces for negotiations is crucial for the future of the country.

“Since a year ago, the economic [and political] situation in Venezuela have severely deteriorated,” Jose Meza, a Venezuelan analyst and journalist told Al Jazeera. 

“We need a political solution and, with our current politicians, this is becoming increasingly difficult, it’s important to open more spaces for negotiations, the radicalisation won’t bring a solution to the current crisis,” he added.  

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