Police role suspected in continued attacks on Venezuelan family

The Venezuelan authorities must tackle the culture of impunity within the country’s security forces, Amnesty International said today, after the seventh member of one family was allegedly killed by police at the weekend.Juan José Barrios was reportedly assassinated by two hooded men in Aragua, west of Caracas, on 28 May, making him the seventh member of the Barrios family to be killed in suspicious circumstances since 1998. Aragua police officers are suspected to have been involved in each of the killings.  The Barrios family’s attempts to seek justice for the killings have been met with continued threats and attacks. “Venezuela’s national and state authorities must send a clear message that the ongoing violence against the Barrios family is unacceptable,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Americas Programme. “Seven family members are dead while their attackers continue to walk free – the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice and the Venezuelan authorities must provide adequate protection to the surviving members of the Barrios family.”Since 1998, police officers in Aragua have allegedly been involved in killing six of Juan José Barrios’ male family members – Benito, Narciso, Luis Alberto, Rigoberto, Oscar and Wilmer José. Aragua police officers reportedly killed Benito Barrios on 28 August 1998. Since reporting his killing, members of the Barrios family have been subjected to harassment and intimidation from police, including arbitrary arrests, threats, harassment, torture and other ill-treatment. As a witness to Narciso’s killing in December 2003 following an argument he had with Aragua police officers, Néstor Caudi Barrios subsequently received several death threats from police officers, and was not offered any protection when he reported them. He suffered permanent injuries as a result of being shot by two men on motorbikes on 2 January 2011. Amnesty International is not aware of any progress made in investigations into the attack on Néstor Caudi Barrios or the killings of his seven family members. The ongoing threats and violence have forced members of the Barrios family to move homes, to live apart from loved ones and to leave their jobs. At the request of the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights, members of the Barrios family have been receiving police protection since June 2004, but this measure has been sporadic and ineffective. Five Barrios family members have been killed since it was put in place.  In April 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that Venezuela had violated the rights to life, physical integrity and freedom of several members of the Barrios family, including some children. The commission ordered the Venezuelan authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible and offer adequate reparation to the victims. Venezuela failed to comply and the case was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in July 2010.“Members of the Barrios family have been the victims of cruel and sustained attacks on their human rights – these must stop now and the Venezuelan authorities must ensure that such attacks against the Barrios family or any other family are never allowed to take place again,” said Guadalupe Marengo.