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Venezuela suspends UN rights office, expels staff

Venezuela suspends UN rights office expels staff

Venezuela on Thursday suspended activities of the UN rights office in the country and ordered its staff to leave within 72 hours, just days after authorities detained prominent activist Rocio San Miguel.

The United Nations agency had expressed “deep concern” on X over the detention of the rights activist just two days prior and called for her “immediate release.”

San Miguel, 57, was arrested last Friday in the immigration area of an airport in Caracas, sparking an international outcry.

Prosecutors have accused her of “treason” and “terrorism” for her purported role in the latest alleged plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro, which the government has said was backed by the United States.

Foreign Minister Yvan Gil said the UN rights office had taken on an “inappropriate role” and had become “the private law firm of the coup plotters and terrorists who permanently conspire against the country.”

He said the decision would remain in place until the agency “publicly rectifies, before the international community, its colonialist, abusive and violating attitude of the United Nations Charter.”

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However, he assured that Venezuela “will continue to cooperate” with the rights agency, OHCHR, in Geneva.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office which has been present in Venezuela since 2019, said: “We regret this announcement and are evaluating the next steps.”

“Our guiding principle has been and remains the promotion and protection of the human rights of the people of Venezuela.”

‘Not isolated incidents’

The detention of San Miguel comes in a crunch election year that has already seen Maduro block his main opposition rival, prompting the United States to threaten to reimpose recently eased oil sanctions.

On Wednesday NGO members protested in Caracas outside the UN human rights office, shouting “Free Rocio.”

She was arrested alongside several family members who have since been released on bail.

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However, her ex-husband, a retired soldier, was also arrested and is being charged with allegedly revealing “political and military secrets.”

The detentions come after Venezuelan authorities in January said they had uncovered five plots to assassinate Maduro, implicating rights activists, journalists and soldiers.

Maduro frequently denounces plans to overthrow him, usually with the alleged involvement of the United States and the opposition.

San Miguel is the founder of an NGO called Citizen Control, which investigates security and military issues, such as the number of citizens killed or abused by security forces.

She has detailed military involvement in illegal mining operations, and a recent femicide in the army.

The Venezuelan human rights NGO Provea said the decision “increases victims’ vulnerability to abuse and aims to prevent control by international bodies.”

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The United States and European Union also expressed their deep concern at San Miguel’s arrest.

An independent fact-finding mission to Venezuela set up by the UN Human Rights Council — a different body made up of 47 member states — on Tuesday condemned the “intensifying” repression of opponents in the country.

“These are not isolated incidents, but rather a series of events that appear to be part of a coordinated plan to silence critics and perceived opponents,” said Marta Valinas, chairwoman of the mission, in a statement Tuesday.

The wave of criticism angered Caracas, and Attorney General Tarek William Saab who slammed a “ferocious campaign from abroad against the justice system and the Venezuelan state.”

And Gil said Wednesday that if the UN office was so “concerned about the human rights of Venezuelans,” it should closely cooperate with the government.

He accused the agency of only thinking “on the side of the extreme right, only protecting people who have tried to not only subvert the constitutional order but also generate widespread violence in Venezuela.”

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– By: © Agence France-Presse