Francisco Cox: “There is a State policy to silence and persecute opponents in Venezuela” | International

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It is possible that on September 26 Nicolás Maduro will meet Gustavo Petro at the opening of the border between Venezuela and Colombia, which will be a milestone to settle years of diplomatic hostilities between the two countries. That day, however, the Venezuelan president will also be the center of the debate in the presentation of the third report of the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission in the interactive dialogue between the members of the Human Rights Council. There, for the first time, he will be pointed out as responsible for the human rights violations that have been generated in the framework of “a State policy that has used methods that constitute crimes against humanity.”

This week, members of the mission made their findings public, including the names of torturers, the use of tools such as “la senorita,” a device to deform the bodies of detainees and submerge them in water tanks, and the establishment of a pattern for selecting targets that has been incorporated into the practices of intelligence agencies in Venezuela. Chilean lawyer Francisco Cox, a member of the mission, who previously investigated the case of the 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa by designation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and litigated before the International Criminal Court (CPI), reviews in an interview with EL PAÍS the report and warns about the implications that its revelations should have.

Ask: Which of all that was revealed in the three Mission reports worries you the most?

Response: In the first report we stated that there were crimes against humanity with policies such as arbitrary arrests and torture of people from the opposition or perceived as government dissidents. In the second report, we analyzed the behavior of the justice system and what we concluded is that sometimes it contributed to arbitrary arrests, there was no effective control over security forces such as Sebin (Bolivarian Intelligence Service) and the Dgcim (General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence). Now we give an account of the people and the structure and we show that there are different contributions that allow the materialization of this State policy. Our greatest concern is that there is an implementation of a State policy to silence and persecute opponents or those who are perceived as dissidents by the Government of Venezuela, and this includes people such as Twitter users, or those who express criticism of the Government. The arrest of relatives is also used so that the objectives end up surrendering.

P. Attorney General Tarek William Saab said a few days ago that the Venezuelan judicial system does not need transitional justice to protect it.

R. The first institutions called upon to take charge of these reports, provide victims with access to justice and carry out impartial investigations are the Venezuelan authorities. The international justice system and the International Criminal Court are complementary to national institutions. But what we unfortunately confirm with our second report is that the Venezuelan justice system does not act with the due impartiality required by international standards or by those of the Venezuelan Constitution. Then reforms would have to be made, but not only that, because in Latin America there is a tendency to believe that passing a law changes the situation. We have decrees issued by President Nicolás Maduro himself that say that the Helicoide prison cannot continue to be used and we know that there are at least 70 people who continue to be detained there. We believe that there are reforms that have to be made and the fact that a decision is pending on the initiation of an investigation at the ICC shows the need for the international community to continue to monitor the situation in Venezuela.

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P. The report for the first time indicates that Nicolás Maduro and other high officials must be criminally investigated. How can that happen?

R. Our standard of proof is not that of a court. We say what we say because there are reasonable grounds to investigate. It is not only the ICC that can do it. There are countries with international jurisdiction that can initiate their investigations. Here is a state policy that is taken from the president’s circle, in which there are also people like Diosdado Cabello, but we also point out those from the Dgcim and Sebin who facilitate it.

P. In the report they reveal the actions of Venezuelan intelligence agents in countries such as Colombia and Panama for the arrest of opponents. What implications can this have at the international level, especially with Colombia in full resumption of diplomatic relations?

R. We have a very precise mandate and we cannot talk about reestablishing relations between states. But what we can say is that our reports have to be taken into account when making decisions about bilateral or multilateral relations, because we are a body created by the United Nations and the member countries must have them as a reference for what happens in Venezuela. That intelligence elements are introduced in other countries without authorization should be a wake-up call. We insist that the international community must maintain vigilance over the situation in Venezuela, because the principle of non-interference is limited by human rights. The mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the field should be further strengthened and the mandate of the mission renewed. And obviously there is the ICC, with its independence, which must continue with the investigation that is now suspended at the request of Venezuela.

P. The members of the mission have not been able to visit the country. What limitations has this had for research?

R. We are not authorized by the Government to enter the country. What the team does is talk to people who are inside Venezuela with the necessary protocols so as not to expose them, also access official documents such as the judicial files that have been provided to us and talk with those who have left Venezuela. Border areas have also been visited to specifically investigate the situation of the Arco Minero.

P. What impact does what is happening in the Orinoco Mining Arc have for the region?

R. It is a very difficult region to document because Venezuela decided to make this a strategic area with a resolution without prior consultation, in an area where many indigenous peoples live who were not consulted. It is very difficult to have figures, but estimates from different sources tell us that between 70 and 90% of the gold that comes out of these areas is illegal, due to the conditions in which it is extracted, where there are armed groups and human rights violations are committed. such as sexual exploitation or corporal punishment against people accused of stealing. It is an extremely complex situation of great ecological damage, but also of serious human rights violations.

P. With what can the situation of human rights in Venezuela be compared in the region?

R. I cannot compare because I do not have the level of documentation of other situations, but it can be taken as a reference that the Human Rights Council created a mission similar to ours in Nicaragua and that is the only other country in the region that has a Mission of Fact Finding in Latin America and the Caribbean. That can give a certain gravity similarity parameter. And obviously in the past, Colombia, which had an ICC preliminary examination that closed last year.

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