GENEVA • Venezuelan special forces have carried out thousands of extrajudicial killings in the past 18 months and manipulated crime scenes to make them look as if the victims had resisted arrest, the United Nations said in a report.
Special Action Forces, described by witnesses as "death squads", killed 5,287 people last year and another 1,569 by mid-May this year, in what are officially termed by the Venezuelan government as "Operations for the Liberation of the People", UN investigators said.
Laying out a detailed description of a lawless system of oppression, the report released on Thursday said the actual number of deaths could be much higher.
It cited accounts by independent groups which report more than 9,000 killings for "resistance to authority" over the same period.
"There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these killings constitute extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces," the investigators said.
The report delivers a scathing critique of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's embattled government and its handling of the country's deepening political and economic crisis.
Since 2016, the report said, the government has pursued a strategy "aimed at neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the government".
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry has rejected the findings, saying the report offers a "distorted vision" that ignored most of the information presented by the government to UN researchers.
"The analysis is not objective nor impartial," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, listing what it said were 60 errors.
"The negative points are privileged in the extreme and the advances or measures adapted in the area of human rights are ignored or minimised," it added.