The Special Action Forces (FAES) has been accused by various international human rights organizations of committing serious human rights violations. The State announced its dissolution in 2022 supposedly in application of recommendations made by the former High Commissioner for Human Rights; however, an analysis of the NGO Acceso a la Justicia explains the reasons for the survival of said organization and how it acts with similar members, functions, and methods under the shadow of the Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET), following the most recent report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFMV). This is, perhaps, the most eloquent example of the false cooperation that the Venezuelan government proclaims before the universal human rights system and the international criminal justice system.
«Mismo musiú con diferente cachimbo». This popular Venezuelan saying perfectly illustrates what happened with the controversial Special Action Forces of the Bolivarian National Police (FAES), whose dissolution in 2022, in supposed compliance with the recommendations made by the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, it was not such.
The claim appears in the new report that the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFMV) on Venezuela presented on September 20 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The 61-page report states that the Venezuelan Government did not suppress the police force that different national and international bodies implicated in cases of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary and illegal detentions, torture and enforced disappearances, but simply changed the name and renamed it the Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET).
“The Mission also has reasonable grounds to believe that despite the apparent dissolution of the Special Actions Forces in 2022, there is continuity between it and the Directorate of Strategic and Tactical Actions (DAET)” according to the document, which was prepared from interviews with victims of abuses committed by FAES agents, as well as with former officials both of that organization as well as the no less questioned Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin).
The dissolution of the FAES was never made official, therefore, the Venezuelan human rights movement questioned it from the first moment. On the other hand, the DAET was officially inaugurated in July 2022, made up of special divisions for immediate action.
Reasons to suspect
One of the main reasons why the FFMV believes that the FAES continue to operate, although under the name of DAET, is that “both institutions have similar functions and use the same modus operandi.”
The UN body reached this conclusion after investigating seven of the so-called “Trueno” security (“Thunder”) operations, aimed at dismantling organized crime, carried out by agents of the DAET since 2022 and in which 72 deaths and 345 detainees were recorded.
In this regard, it received information that irregularities occurred such as:
Cordoning of neighborhoods (in popular areas) with the order to residents to stay in their homes.
The agents went against previously selected targets.
The actions occurred early in the morning or late at night.
The searches of homes were carried out without court orders.
The victims were separated from their families.
Cases of abuse were recorded.
Many of the agents who participated in the actions had their faces covered and were dressed in black.
Cases of theft of property were recorded in the registered homes.
Those killed in the operations were shot at point-blank range in vital areas.
The authorities presented the deaths as resistance to authority or confrontations, even though witnesses indicated that the last time they saw them were immobilized or unarmed.
The FFMV did not overlook the fact that most of these procedures did not result in the arrest of any of the criminals wanted by the authorities.
Another reason to suspect that the FAES simply suffered disguise is that many of its members, “some of whom were identified as having been involved in gross human rights violations and even crimes against humanity, now hold key roles within the chain of command of the new Directorate.” The report mentions FAES directors who are now in charge of the DAET.
In its report, the FFMV also denounced that the new unit has been involved in persecution against dissent. As evidence, it mentioned the case of the union leader and activist of the Bandera Roja opposition party, Nestor Astudillo, who was arbitrarily detained in July 2022 for leading protests against the questioned salary instructions of the National Budget Office (Onapre).
“The four agents who carried out the arrest wore vests with insignia of the Criminal Investigation Directorate (DIP) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) (the DIP is one of the entities merged with the DAET), who entered by force to Astudillo’s home without presenting any arrest or search warrant”.
This is read in the report, which also concluded the following:
“The conversion of the former FAES into DAET did not imply a change in the way its components and troops operate, both within the framework of security operations against organized crime and within the framework of the selective repression of opposition members or those perceived as such. In the case of security operations, the Mission has reasonable grounds to believe that the modus operandi in Operations Trueno coincides, in general terms, with the modes of action of the OLP/OLHP (Operation Liberation of the People)”.
The FFMV’s accusation that the FAES continue to operate is further proof that the Venezuelan authorities do not have a genuine will to put into practice the recommendations that international human rights protection organizations have made to them in recent years in order to improve the situation of fundamental guarantees in the country.
In the report, the UN Mission confirmed that national bodies, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, “have not taken any institutional action regarding (their) reports” nor “in relation to the reports and recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.” (IACHR) since 2016.
The authorities disregard the suggestions of international organizations and fail to fulfill the commitments made before bodies such as the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. Evidence of this is that in the different cycles it has committed to guaranteeing judicial independence or improving the situation of those deprived of liberty, something that evidently has not happened.
The report also presents 18 recommendations to the authorities to reform the DAET and ensure that this unit does not continue to be a focus of human rights violations.
One of the proposals is the following:
“Conduct a vetting process for personnel attached to the DAET at all levels, including its senior and middle command, to ensure that none of these individuals have been involved in violations and crimes as documented by the mission, and initiate relevant investigations to ensure that these individuals are held accountable in accordance with international human rights standards”.
Another is to ensure that “security forces are regulated by laws that clearly describe their powers, establish oversight mechanisms and comply with international human rights standards. Ensure that these laws are strictly enforced”.
And how does it affect you, Venezuelan?
The report of the Fact Finding Mission demolishes what appears to be an attempt by the authorities to make international human rights protection organizations believe that they are taking note of their recommendations. A move that was part of the strategy to prevent a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into what happened in the country, which shows that this is necessary, as only an independent and professional investigation will clarify the events that occurred in Venezuela and help compensate the victims.
The report also exposes how the legal and administrative reforms adopted by the Government to supposedly clean up police agencies and the justice administration system are clearly insufficient and do not address the root of the reported problems.