Valinas said that in recent years, violations had been more targeted against certain union leaders, journalists and rights activists AFP

Venezuela's government has been intensifying efforts to reduce civic and democratic space, UN experts said Wednesday, voicing alarm at the situation in the run-up to elections next year.

A team tasked with probing alleged violations in Venezuela said that while it had received fewer allegations of gross human rights violations than previously, it saw indications of more "targeted" and increasingly intense attacks by authorities.

"Serious human rights violations are being committed to this day in Venezuela," Marta Valinas, chair of the UN's Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, told reporters in Geneva.

"These violations are not isolated acts, but continue to reflect a policy to suppress dissent and opposition to the government," she said.

Valinas said that in recent years, the incidents had become more targeted against certain union leaders, journalists and human rights defenders.

The mission, which was created by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019, warned in its first report three years ago that President Nicolas Maduro and top government ministers were behind likely crimes against humanity.

But its team has never been granted access to Venezuela.

In its report examining rights violations between January 2020 and August 2023, the mission determined that continuous threats, surveillance and harassment, along with defamation and censorship, had been used to stifle any real or perceived opposition.

The experts found reasonable grounds to believe that state repression led to at least five "arbitrary deprivations of life", more than a dozen enforced disappearances, and 58 arbitrary detentions.

They also documented 28 cases of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including 19 cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

The mission highlighted that the political and human rights crisis that erupted in Venezuela nearly a decade ago saw a shift in late 2020, with the end of mass opposition protests and acts of rebellion and insurgency.

But it stressed that while the authorities' "hardline" repression tactics may have dissipated, the government was increasingly cracking down on civic space.

"Mechanisms of repression continue to exist," Valinas said.

The team pointed to one case, where a group of labour unionists demanding better working conditions were sentenced to 16 years behind bars, after having been "arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated in detention for more than a year".

"The government is silencing and creating a chilling effect on anyone who might consider participating in any activities that could be perceived as critical of the government," mission member Patricia Tappata Valdez told reporters.

The mission warned the context was particularly alarming given upcoming presidential elections next year.

Three opposition candidates have already been disqualified from running, they pointed out.

The team also voiced concern that security agencies involved in serious abuses were still operating there.

In a 2020 report, it concluded that Venezuela's Special Action Forces (FAES) was involved in numerous extrajudicial executions and other serious abuses.

The organisation was allegedly dissolved last year, but the mission pointed to indications of "continuity" with the national police's new Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET), including similar functions and the same modus operandi.

The mission said that DAET counts among its leadership former FAES officers identified in the 2020 report as having been involved in serious violations.