The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed on Tuesday that the number of arrests of peaceful anti-socialist dissidents hit record highs last week in Venezuela, when interim President Juan Guaidó replaced dictator Nicolás Maduro.
“Just on January 23 – if you all remember, Wednesday was the most important day – we believe that there were at least 696 arrests nationwide,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, told reporters at a press conference announcing the numbers distributed by Venezuelan NGOs. “This is the highest number of detentions registered in a single day in at least the past 20 years.”
Between January 21 and 26, according to Colville, Maduro’s police arrested 850 people, including 77 minors. The U.N. documented at least one incident of a 12-year-old arrested for protesting the regime.
The U.N. also confirmed at least 40 deaths between January 22 and 25, and at least 26 confirmed to have been shot dead by Maduro’s armed forces or colectivos, socialist gangs that Maduro uses to enforce loyalty to him.
“At least five people died during illegal raids of homes in poor neighborhoods, also presumably at the hands of security forces,” Colville said.
The U.N. reported only one of those killed was a member of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) killed in northeast Monagas state. The organization did not provide details on that incident that clarified the nature of the death and whether it was the product of protesters’ attacks or friendly fire.
The U.N. numbers are consistent with the reports from the Venezuelan Penal Forum, an NGO in the country that tracks politically motivated arrests and killings. The Forum documented 850 arrests since January 21, two days before Guaidó took his oath of office as interim president. The NGO also documented 77 arrests of minors.
“They arrested an indigenous girl in Amazonas, a 14-year-old girl,” Alfredo Romero, the executive director of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, told reporters on Monday. “In Yaracuy, 11 boys and one girl were arrested. They have been deprived of liberty by a judge with no justification whatsoever.”
Some cases of detained minors appear to be the product not of protests, but of children being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, the NGO highlighted the case of a 16-year-old boy arrested on his way to a local market to shop for food. He was arrested for being near a group of people believed to be anti-socialist, all of whom were arrested.
The detention of minors recalled the brutal killings of underaged people during the 2014-2016 wave of protests against Maduro. Among the most famous cases was the 2015 slaying of 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa while walking home from school. A National Guard soldier stopped Roa on his way home, believing him to be on the way to a protest in western Táchira state. Roa, agitated by the officer and the nearby protest, reportedly shouted, “stop the repression” before being shot dead. Despite the international outcry, Maduro’s regime continued to kill children; an estimated 10,000 were killed in 2016.
In total, the Venezuelan Penal Forum reported this week that the new arrests have brought the number of political prisoners in the country up to 976. The NGO was quick to warn that arrests are ongoing, so the number is expected to increase.
Guaidó has called for another round of protests against the regime this Wednesday after claiming to have attracted 7 million protesters against Maduro last week, all but guaranteeing military violence against the protesters. The rallies will be a test of the military’s loyalty to Maduro; Guaidó has urged troops to stop killing and injuring fellow citizens, particularly low-level soldiers who are suffering the harm of Maduro’s humanitarian crisis just as civilians are.
“We will go out peacefully, in an unprecedented way, people must come out to their streets where they are, in their homes, offices, places of work, for a great national protest to keep sending the message to the National Armed Forces about the Amnesty Law and demanding they get on Venezuela’s side,” Guaidó said of upcoming protests.
The National Assembly has passed a law granting amnesty to any soldiers who abandon Maduro. Guaidó said in an interview last week that Maduro himself may even benefit from an amnesty plan despite his human rights crimes if he steps down and becomes a force for peace. These declarations appeared to contradict statements Guaidó made on Twitter Tuesday, ensuring that crimes against civilians, particularly children, “will not go unpunished.”
“Our youth and minors cannot continue to be targets for the atrocities of a group of officials at the service of an usurper,” he wrote. “I warn: keeping minors detained, especially sick and special needs children, submitted to cruel treatment is a crime and a flagrant violation of human rights that will not go unpunished.”
Advierto: mantener detenidos a menores de edad, niños especiales y con enfermedades, sometidos a tratos crueles es un crimen y una flagrante violación de DDHH que no quedará impune.
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) January 29, 2019