Venezuela: Human Rights Defender Arrested, Daughter and Relatives Disappeared

Published: 14 February 2024

Rocio San MiguelRocío San Miguel is a human rights activist specialized in military issues in Venezuela. She is also the president of Control Ciudadano, a NGO that monitors Venezuela's security, defense sectors and the authorities. (Photo: Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Wikimedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

The United Nations Human Rights office denounced on Tuesday the detention of human rights activist Rocío San Miguel, whom Venezuelan authorities have accused of wanting to kill President Nicolas Maduro. The U.N. sees the arrest as part of an ongoing government campaign to silence critics.

“Her whereabouts remain unknown, potentially qualifying her detention as an enforced disappearance,” the U.N. tweeted.

Apart from San Miguel, her daughter and four other relatives have disappeared. Meanwhile, the daughter and three of San Miguel’s family members have been released on Wednesday. The fourth is her former partner and he remains in detention.

Rocío San Miguel is a Venezuelan lawyer and human rights activist specializing in military issues. She is currently the president of the non-governmental organization Control Ciudadano, which monitors mainly Venezuela's security and defense sectors.

For some time, she has been a victim of harassment, persecution, and discrimination by the authorities and was the target of an allegedly government-orchestrated defamation campaign in 2014.

San Miguel was arrested last Friday at the Simon Bolivar International Airport on the outskirts of the Venezuelan capital, where she was about to take a flight with her daughter.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office requested her preventive judicial detention on Monday for "treason, conspiracy, terrorism, and association." Detention was also requested for her former partner and four other people who, according to the media, correspond to her disappeared relatives.

"In Venezuela, measures of repression and intimidation aimed at reducing civic space - now at greater risk with the upcoming adoption of the law regulating non-governmental organizations and affecting their independence - continue to be combined with other severe repressive measures," stated Marta Valiñas, the president of the United Nations fact-finding mission.

"It is worrying that the Prosecutor’s Office continues to operate following the interest of the Government to allow a semblance of legality to all these abuses," the statement said.

The Prosecutor’s Office fired back with counteraccusations.

"We denounce the fierce campaign from abroad against the Justice System and the Venezuelan State by the same factors that have always underestimated Venezuelan democratic institutions and have protected at the same time the assassination attempts and coups d'état against Venezuela orchestrated by the imperial powers of the West," stated the Attorney General of Venezuela on the case.

The activist's defense team told OCCRP partner Efecto Cocuyo Center that as of 10:30 a.m. on February 13, they had not been able to communicate with her or any of the five family members.

In mid-January, Venezuelan authorities arrested more than 30 civilians and military personnel following a months-long investigation into their alleged involvement in "conspiracies" to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. Among them are members of the democratic opposition, civil society, former military, and journalists.