Venezuelan envoy rejects ‘biased’ report at UN rights body

William Castillo, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, talk about the situation of human rights in Venezuela, during the 41th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, July 05, 2019. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

GENEVA (AP) — A top Venezuelan diplomat on Friday blasted what he called the “biased vision” of a report by the U.N. human rights chief chronicling torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings in the country, and demanded it be “corrected.”

Deputy Foreign Minister William Castillo insisted the report from High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “does not reflect the reality in our country.” He said Venezuela would heed “constructive” recommendations.

“We demand that its contents be corrected, and we urge you to act in a balanced and respectful way,” Castillo told the U.N-backed Human Rights Council through a translator.

“The content of this report is incomprehensible, dominated by a selective and biased vision,” Castillo said. “It’s a text lacking in scientific rigor, with serious errors in methodology and which seems like a carbon copy of previous reports.”

Bachelet, after presenting the report published Thursday to the council, insisted that she heard from victims on both government and opposition sides, and defended the methodology. Since taking office last year, Bachelet said, she has emphasized that staffers need to get the facts right to show balance.

Also Friday, Bachelet announced that Venezuela has freed 22 people the opposition considers political prisoners under international pressure. That brings the release of political prisoners in recent weeks to 84.

Bachelet’s announcement came as embattled President Nicolás Maduro appeared in a military celebration on Venezuela’s Independence Day, while opposition leader Juan Guaidó was expected to lead a march against the socialist leader.

The rights chief said her teams had been working on the report, which covers a period from January 2018 nearly to the present, for a long time. She insisted upon the validity of the reporting, based on hundreds of interviews and meetings with government officials, Maduro’s opponents, as well as victims, their relatives, rights defenders and many others.

She also expressed hope that the report could help pave the way toward improvements in the rights situation in Venezuela, and noted that her office now has an office in Venezuela — access not granted for many years.

She summarized her team’s findings about a “pattern of torture” under Maduro’s government, citing violations like arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.

Witnesses recounted “in every case” how special forces known as FAES “manipulated the crime scene and evidence,” the report said. “They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had ‘resisted authority.'”

“In many cases, FAES brought the victims to hospital even though they were already dead, apparently with the intention of manipulating the bodies and modifying the crime scene,” it added.

Venezuela’s government acknowledged nearly 5,300 killings during security operations last year alone linked to “resistance to authority,” the report said, and added that another 1,569 took place from Jan. 1 to May 19 this year.

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Associated Press writer Scott Smith reported from Caracas, Venezuela.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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