State Department condemns Venezuela's treason trials; UN denounces systematic use of excessive force in crackdown on dissent

The State Department on Wednesday accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of undermining democracy even further by looking to try his political opponents for treason, which the U.S. said was creating "yet another rupture" in his nation's constitutional order.

"This injustice is only the latest in a sustained effort by the Maduro regime to undermine democracy, repress political dissent, and sow fear among its critics," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday. "It embodies yet another rupture in Venezuela's constitutional order and defies the fact that in democracies, ideas and opinions are not crimes." 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's team pointed out that Venezuela has faced economic struggles for years, quite apart from last week's sanctions. 

"The United States condemns the call by Venezuela's illegitimate Constituent Assembly for trials of the political opposition, including members of the democratically-elected legislature, on charges of treason and alleged involvement in Venezuela's economic crisis," Nauert said. "Venezuela's economic situation is the result of the misguided policies and corruption of the Maduro regime, which bears direct responsibility for the suffering of the Venezuelan people." 

In other news, the United Nations on Wednesday said Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests and that democracy was “barely alive”. 

The actions indicated “a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear”, the U.N. human rights office said in a report that called for further investigation and accountability. 

It called on the government of President Nicolas Maduro to release arbitrarily detained demonstrators and to halt the unlawful use of military courts to try civilians. 

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein was asked whether the country was now a dictatorship. 

“I think we would argue that over the course of time we have seen an erosion of democratic life in Venezuela,” Zeid told a news conference. “It must be barely alive, if still alive, is the way I would look at it.” 

Some 882 people are currently believed to remain in custody, among 5,341 arbitrarily detained in street protests since April, U.N. human rights official Hernan Vales said. Detainees are often subjected to ill-treatment, in some documented cases amounting to torture, the report said. 

“After many of the violations they suffered, the violent house raids and the detentions, the ill-treatment... the large majority of them have told us that they don’t dare to demonstrate anymore. They are afraid,” Vales said. 

The report followed initial findings issued on Aug 8.