The United Nations' human rights watchdog says Venezuelan security forces' attempts to crush dissent, including the use of lethal force, have left democracy ''barely alive'' amid the country's civil unrest. Rough cut (no reporter narration).
The United Nations says Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's crackdowns on opposition in his country's crisis have resulted in systematic and excessive use of force, including lethal weapons, leaving democracy hanging by a thread. Speaking in Geneva, the UN's civil rights agency says despite the death of 73 people at the hands of pro-government forces since April, the situation still has the potential to deteriorate further. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICER, HERNAN VALES, SAYING: "Credible and consistent accounts of victims and witnesses indicate that security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear. Less lethal weapons were not used according to international human rights standards. We also documented the use of lethal force against protesters by security forces." The U.N. says the overall deathtoll is believed to be 123, including nine members of the security forces, as some violent demonstrators have turned to using makeshift explosives against the government. Maduro has said he is the victim of an armed rebellion backed by the United States. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, ZEID RA'AD AL-HUSSEIN, SAYING: "It is clear that the policies pursued by the authorities in their response to the protests has been at the cost of Venezuelans' rights and freedoms. The right to peaceful assembly was systematically violated (...) "There is real concern amid economic crisis and continuing political polarisation that the situation may well deteriorate. (...) With respect to Maduro, the president was elected by the people. But since then there has been an erosion of democratic life. (...) So I think it must be barely alive if still alive, is the way I would look at it." Almost 900 people are believed to be in custody by Venezuelan forces.