"Protesters Executed For Social Media Posts": Amnesty Issues Scathing Venezuela Report

On Wednesday Amnesty International issued formal condemnation of the Venezuelan government for what it described as a pattern of shocking human rights abuses and state repression under President Nicolas Maduro, including the execution of several people, as well as using live fire to put down anti-Maduro protests, killing dozens according to Amnesty. 

The respected international human rights monitoring body issued a report titled "Hunger, punishment and fear, the formula for repression in Venezuela," which analyzed government repression during the height of recent unrest. Over 5 days, from Jan 21 to Jan 25, the report found that "dozens died... almost all from gunshot wounds" along with 900 arrests

Further, in a move that seems straight out of the "Arab Spring" playbook, which resulted in direct as well as covert military intervention in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Amnesty International didn't just call on Caracas to cease its oppression, but called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to take action to address the "total impunity that prevails in Venezuela". Specifically it urged that an independent investigative body be formed by the UN to spotlight human rights abuses in the Latin American country. 

"The authorities under Nicolas Maduro are trying to use fear and punishment to impose a repulsive strategy of social control against those who demand change," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty. "His government is attacking the most impoverished people that it claims to defend, but instead it murders, detains and threatens them."

Amnesty sent an information gathering team to investigate on the ground during the height of the protests, according to the report

In just five days, at least 41 people died during these protests, all of them from gunshot wounds. More than 900 were arbitrarily detained, and just on 23 January (the day that demonstrations were held across the country), 770 arbitrary arrests were reported.

During a research mission in the states of Lara, Yaracuy, Vargas, and different locations in Caracas, from 31 January to 17 February, Amnesty International gathered more than 50 testimonies and documented 15 emblematic cases, including some of serious human rights violations and crimes under international law. The findings of this investigation will soon be fully expanded on in a public report.

And further the report documented "typical patterns" of state oppression: 

The evidence gathered in these different locations shows typical patterns. These indicate that the state authorities carried out selective extrajudicial executions as a method of social control using the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), mainly through its Special Actions Force (FAES), against people who participated in some way in the protests. The more impoverished areas of Caracas and other parts of the country were particularly affected and stigmatized, registering the highest numbers of victims, who were later presented as “criminals” killed in clashes with the authorities.

In addition to repression by armed forces, the report found that especially in the most aid-dependent areas government repression tended to be carried out by pro-Maduro civilian gangs that weren't part of the formal military structure.

In these deeply impoverished areas, the report found, "There is a strong presence of pro-Nicolás Maduro armed groups (commonly known as colectivos) in these areas, where residents depend to a large extent on the currently limited state programs to distribute staple foods."

The report also detailed what it described extrajudicial executions as a method of social control, in some cases merely for making anti-Maduro social media posts that went viral:

Amnesty International documented six extrajudicial executions at the hands of the FAES in several locations across the country, all with a similar modus operandi. In each case, the victims were in some way linked to the protests that had been held in previous days and the criticism that several of them had made against Nicolás Maduro had gone viral on social networks.

The six victims were all young men whom authorities publicly described as having been killed in clashes with the FAES. This public security force tampered with the crime scenes and portrayed the victims as delinquents, saying that several of them had a criminal record, in an attempt to justify their deaths.

Based on this section of the report, Amnesty International UK headlined its press release with Venezuela crisis mission: Protesters executed for social media posts.

Amnesty spokespersons have described the Nicolas Maduro government as painting all regime opponents as "criminals" that are "ravaging communities" in order to justify an uptick in deadly military and police raids in recent weeks. 

One particularly heinous case involved a raid in the city of Carora, where Amnesty said police beat up 29-year old Luis Enrique Ramos Suarez in front of ten relatives before shooting him dead, after they staged a mock shoot out in order to claim self-defense and paint the man as a terrorist. 

The timing of Amnesty's report is interesting, considering it coincides with what appears to be the White House paving the way for some kind of potential US military intervention in favor of US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.