CARACAS – Venezuelans report police officers killed seven young men during a recent secret extrajudicial execution at a former office building that was converted into apartments for the poor in downtown Caracas.
A dozen police officers from a special unit of the national police were looking for suspects involved on a police shooting on Monday. The officers were going door to door ordering women and children to stay inside and taking some men downstairs, witnesses said.
The men were blindfolded and their hands were tied.
The officers asked the men to raise their hands if they had a criminal record. Witnesses said those who raised their hands were taken back upstairs. A shooting followed. The seven were shot in the chest. The police department reported the officers were responding to shots fired.
Miguel Pico said the shots he heard were clearly not part of a shoot out. Lisbeth Mijares agrees. Her brother was among the seven killed.
"It was never a shootout because all of the men were downstairs with their hands tied," Mijares said.
A 19-year-old man, who was helping to make plantain chips when officers arrived, said he managed to escape to a parking lot, and when police officers found him they threatened to kill him should he not hang over something valuable.
"I remembered the shoes. I went upstairs. I opened the suitcase and just thanked God," the man who did not want to be identified said.
Many of the neighbors said many of the witnesses have moved out for fear of reprisal.
Earlier this year, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, called for an internal investigation into human rights violations during crime-fighting operations in poor neighborhoods conducted without arrest warrants and ending in the extrajudicial killings of young men.
"The failure to hold security forces accountable for such serious human rights violations suggests that the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela," he said. "The impunity must end."
The United Nations released a report saying Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela's former attorney general, recorded the killing of 505 people by security forces during crime-fighting operations and was investigating some 357 security officers for crime-related killings.
United Nations investigators cited "credible, shocking" accounts, and a trend of officers who were reportedly not afraid to tamper with a scene to make it appear as if there was an exchange of fire.
The Venezuelan government hasn't released statistics on extrajudicial killings. According to the U.S. State Department killings committed by police in Venezuela are often classified as "resistance to authority," and prosecutions often resulted in light sentences and convictions were often overturned on appeal.