EU slaps sanctions on 7 more in Venezuela over rights abuses

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Friday slapped sanctions on seven members of Venezuela's security and intelligence services on suspicion that they are involved in torture and other abuses, as the U.N's top rights body set up a fact-finding missions to look into human rights violations in the country.

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EU headquarters said Friday that four of the seven , who face asset freezes and travel bans, are linked to the death of Capt. Rafael Acosta Arévalo, a Venezuelan navy officer allegedly tortured in state custody. The move means 25 people are now subject to EU sanctions over the crisis in Venezuela.

"The people of Venezuela continue to face a dramatic situation. The regional impact of the crisis is unprecedented, with severe risks for regional stability," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement. She said the EU stands ready to broaden the sanctions to encourage a political transition and presidential elections, but that the measures can be dialed down if progress is made.

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council voted 19-7 with 21 abstentions for the resolution to create a one-year mission to investigate "extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" in Venezuela over the past five years.

In July, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet issued a report saying Venezuela's government registered nearly 5,300 killings during security operations last year linked to "resistance to authority."

The measure brought by the "Lima Group" of countries that oppose President Nicolas Maduro stopped short of creating a Commission of Inquiry, the greatest level of scrutiny the council can authorize.

Maduro's opponents had been pushing for more sweeping EU sanctions to include officials, including the president, for undermining the country's democratic institutions.

Two years ago, the Trump administration added Maduro to its sanctions list of now more than 100 Venezuelan officials and insiders whose U.S. assets are frozen and who are barred from doing business with Americans.

But the EU has been slower than the U.S. and Canada to confront Maduro, fearing it could wreck the possibility of a negotiated solution to the political stalemate that has exacerbated misery in a country where more than 4 million people — almost 15% of the population — has migrated in search of work and food abroad.

More recently, the outlook for a deal with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and many EU countries recognize as Venezuela's rightful leader, has soured after Maduro ended talks sponsored by Norway, instead opening a dialogue with a small group of minority parties that represent less than 10% of the opposition-controlled congress.

The EU's cautious approach has drawn criticism from members of Venezuela's opposition, which believe it gives oxygen to Maduro's government.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has repeatedly denounced sanctions by the U.S. and EU as an illegal violation of the country's sovereignty. But under the logic of such actions, he said, such tools should be used against Guaidó because he had promoted violence.

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.