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Venezuelan rights group: Extrajudicial killings up

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CARACAS, Venezuela – Unjustified killings by police officers are escalating and occurring across Venezuela, a human rights group charged Thursday.

Relatives of victims began reporting so-called extrajudicial killings in several of Venezuela's 24 states in 2000, Liliana Ortega, director of the Cofavic rights group, said at a news conference. By 2009, such slayings were reported throughout the country, she said.

Ortega called the rise in the number of killings part of "a progressive disappearance of institutional conduct" within Venezuela's municipal, state and federal police forces.

Venezuelans are generally distrustful of police. The government of President Hugo Chavez recently dissolved the Metropolitan Police in the capital of Caracas due to rampant corruption, violent crime by officers and widespread rights abuses.

The government created a new city police force — the National Bolivarian Police — last year as part of an effort to regain the trust of citizens and it plans to expand the force, establishing precincts in other cities.

Ortega's group is closely examining 81 cases of extrajudicial killings between 2000 and 2009, but rights activists say many more such killings were committed during that period. Provea, another Venezuelan rights group, counted 199 extrajudicial killings between October 2009 and September 2010.

Cofavic's study said few police officers responsible for unwarranted killings faced prosecution, which Ortega said has spurred an increase in such slayings.

"Less than 4 percent of the cases go to trial in Venezuela and that obviously creates a situation of institutional break down," Ortega said.

Police responsible for killings frequently threaten or attack the relatives of victims seeking to intimidate them into not reporting the slayings to government authorities, Ortega said.

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