By Alex Roche, writer and campaigner
Imagine that one day your brother is at home with his two sons. Police enter his house, beat him and take him away, handcuffed. Imagine that later that day, he is taken to hospital, already dead, with gunshot wounds to his chest and stomach.
Now imagine that five years later another brother of yours is shot several times in the head and killed by the police, in the presence of your nephew. The following year, yet a third brother of yours is shot and killed, after having been threatened earlier that day by a policeman.
Hard to imagine, right? Well, this is not all.
Imagine also —if you can— that over the course of the next nine years, one more brother of yours, plus six nephews —some of them minors— are killed following a dreadfully similar pattern.
This is exactly what happened to Eloísa Barrios, a woman from Guanayén, state of Aragua, in Venezuela. Ten members of her family —four brothers and six nephews— have been killed since 1998 in circumstances that suggest police involvement.
And “it is not only my relatives who have been killed in Guanayén,” Eloísa has said. “In Guanayén, there have been many more executions by the Aragua police and the victims don’t dare to complain.”
Amnesty International, in the Venezuela section of its Report 2015/16 on the state of the world’s human rights, highlights that in this period there were a number of reports of excessive use of force by the police and security forces in the country, resulting in dozens of deaths, some in circumstances suggesting that they were unlawful killings.
According to available information, investigations and judicial proceedings relating to the killings of members of the Barrios family have made little progress. In only one case have two police officers been found guilty of the killing of Narciso Barrios, one of Eloísa’s brothers. Amnesty International has no knowledge of any investigation having been initiated into the harassment, intimidation and threats the family has suffered for years—which they continue to suffer.
Speaking about this pattern of near total impunity, Eloísa Barrios gave the following testimony for a publication of the Venezuelan human rights organization COFAVIC: “If those responsible had been detained and punished, no one else would have dared to do anything else. But the killers keep daring to continue. With the exception of the Barrios family, the dozens of families in Aragua state who have been victims of these killers are less and less willing to file complaints.”
The surviving members of the Barrios family are at continued risk of retaliation. Eloísa, who has been fighting for justice for years, told COFAVIC: “When you look for justice, you just get humiliated. (…) My mother is one of those who tells me to be careful… But I carry on. The pain and the powerlessness and the rage make the fear go away.”
Take action! Urge the Venezuelan state to:
- Carry out a full, independent and impartial investigation into the threats, harassment and killings suffered by the Barrios family;
- Hold perpetrators accountable;
- Guarantee the personal safety of the members of the Barrios family; and
- Guarantee that the Barrios family receive adequate reparations.