By Vivian Sequera and Stephanie Nebehay
CARACAS/GENEVA (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities must conduct an independent and transparent investigation into the death in custody of a navy captain amid allegations of torture, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.
President Nicolas Maduro’s government over the weekend confirmed the death on June 29 of Rafael Acosta, arrested eight days earlier for alleged participation in a coup plot, without providing details on the cause of death or commenting on the torture accusations.
Human rights organizations and political leaders have accused Maduro’s government of torturing Acosta to death and refusing to clarify the circumstances. Earlier on Monday, Acosta’s wife, Waleswka Perez, had called for the United Nations to investigate.
Bachelet said it was “imperative” that Venezuelan authorities conduct a “prompt, thorough, effective, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his death.”
“I am shocked by the alleged torture of Captain Acosta Arévalo, and that his treatment in custody may have been the cause of his death. I remind the Venezuelan authorities that they are responsible for the life, and the physical and psychological integrity of all people deprived of their liberty,” Bachelet said in a statement released by her office.
Bachelet visited Venezuela in June to speak with Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido about human rights violations committed by authorities and had said two U.N. rights experts would remain in the country to follow up on rights issues.
Acosta’s wife, Perez, demanded that the government hand over Acosta’s body so it could be inspected for signs of torture. The United States and the Lima Group of Latin American nations have also condemned the Maduro government over the incident.
“I request international support for an independent forensic examination by the United Nations to determine the cause of death of the father of my children,” Perez wrote on Twitter.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Alonso Medina, a lawyer representing Acosta’s family, said authorities had detained two officials from military intelligence agency DGCIM, which was holding Acosta.
“This is not enough,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that the investigation should focus on the country’s top military officials because the case implicates the armed forces as an institution in the use of torture.
Acosta, 50, was detained on June 21. When he was taken to a military tribunal on June 28, he was in a wheelchair and was barely able to speak after having been beaten so severely, Perez said over the weekend in televised interviews from Colombia.
The judge sent him to a military hospital, where he died in the early hours of June 29. Despite numerous requests, neither his family nor his lawyer have been given access to his body, Bachelet said.
A defence ministry statement on Sunday said Acosta fainted at the start of the tribunal hearing and was transferred to a military hospital, without offering any further details.
Venezuelan state agencies have not responded to queries as to the cause of his death.
(This story corrects date of Bachelet’s visit to Venezuela from May to June in sixth paragraph)
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Corina Pons in Caracas, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Brian Ellsworth and Angus Berwick; Editing by James Dalgleish)