Feb 15, 2024 - World

Venezuela kicks out UN office in anti-dissent ramp-up

A woman in a sun visor holds up a paper sign that says "free Rocio" in Spanish. The paper is covering half of her face

A Venezuelan holds a "Free Rocío" sign during a press conference by lawyers for detained activist Rocío San Miguel. Photo: Gabriela Oráa/AFP via Getty Images

In the lead-up to Venezuela's elections, President Nicolás Maduro's regime is ramping up actions against dissenting voices through arrests, a proposed ban on NGOs, and an order issued Thursday for the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) to cease operations in the country.

What they're saying: OHCHR said it regrets Thursday's order and is evaluating the next steps. "Our guiding principle has been and remains the promotion and protection of the human rights of the people of Venezuela," OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.

The big picture: The moves come as electoral authorities finalize a date for presidential elections in the second half of the year.

  • The U.S. has warned it will reinstate oil and gas sanctions lifted after Maduro's government late last year promised to hold fair elections.
  • Maduro recently said in a public speech that he would win thse elections "por las buenas o por las malas," essentially by all means necessary.
  • The opposition's chosen candidate, María Corina Machado, is also facing attempts to discredit her primaries win and to bar her from running.

Catch up quick: On Friday, authorities detained activist Rocío San Miguel at the airport and later accused her of allegedly helping plan an unproven assassination plot against Maduro, which her lawyers deny.

  • Four of her family members were also detained but later released.
  • San Miguel, an attorney who leads an NGO focused on human rights and accountability in the armed forces, remains under arrest in Venezuela's most notorious prison, the Helicoide, where there have been reports of torture.

Zoom in: NGOs have called attention to other abuses by Maduro's government amid its claims that it faces coup attempts — claims human rights organizations say are false.

  • In the last month, 33 military officers —nine of them high ranking— were expelled from the Armed Forces.
  • Attorney General Tarek William Saab, a Maduro ally who is sanctioned by the U.S. government, said the dismissed officers were making "conspiracy" plans for coups or assassination attempts. The officers have not spoken publicly.

Venezuela's National Assembly, which is controlled by Maduro allies, is in final debates on a draft bill that could criminalize NGOs, the U.N. has warned.

  • In recent months, the Maduro government has also made moves to claim the Esequibo, an oil-rich territory disputed with Guyana, as belonging to Venezuela.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with the OHCHR's statement.

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