CARACAS - There has been an alarming increase since December in enforced disappearances of Venezuelan citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, said the UN’s independent human rights working group on this issue, on Tuesday.

Most of the disappeared are members of the main opposition party together with serving military personnel.

“As the country gears up for the presidential election in July 2024, enforced disappearances could have a chilling effect and hinder the people’s right to vote freely,” the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said.

“These prolonged incommunicado detentions amount to enforced disappearances”, the five Human Rights Council-appointed experts emphasized.

Sinister pattern

“They appear to follow a pattern whereby individuals are deprived of their liberty by State authorities, taken to recognised detention facilities and denied fundamental rights and protections such as contact with the outside world and access to legal assistance,” they added.

They said it was crucial that accurate information on those who have disappeared “be guaranteed without delay to those with a legitimate interest, such as their relatives and legal representation of their choice”.

The crime of enforced disappearance entails the violation of multiple human rights, they said. These include the right to recognition as a person before the law, the right to liberty and security, and the right to be free from torture.

"The fundamental rights of the relatives of the disappeared person are also being violated," they said.

The experts urged the Government of Venezuela to prevent, eradicate, and condemn all enforced disappearances, provide full information on anyone being held or taken.

Special Rapporteurs, working group members and other UN-appointed rights experts are independent of any government, are not UN staffers and receive no salary for their work.