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UN rights chief steps up criticism of Trump's Venezuela sanctions

Michelle Bachelet also renewed her tough criticism of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, accusing it of a violent crackdown on dissent.

FILE: United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. Picture: United Nations Photo.

GENEVA - The UN human rights chief on Wednesday stepped up her criticism of US sanctions against Venezuela's government, a day after President Donald Trump warned Washington could still impose "tougher" measures.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also renewed her tough criticism of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, accusing it of a violent crackdown on dissent.

But a day after the US announced new sanctions on a Venezuelan state mining company and Trump said he was ready "to go a lot tougher," Bachelet cautioned that Washington's moves could hurt ordinary Venezuelans.

"I am concerned that the recent sanctions on financial transfers related to the sale of Venezuelan oil within the United States may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people's basic rights and wellbeing," she told the Human Rights Council.

Bachelet had previously warned that sanctions have "exacerbated" the crisis.

In addition to the measures announced Tuesday against mining company Minerven, the US has cut Maduro's regime off from the revenue generated by its state oil company, which counts on the US as a key market through operator Citgo.

Speaking in Geneva as the Minerven sanctions were being announced, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Carrie Filipetti told reporters that the US was not trying to harm Venezuela's population.

"We have tried to target our sanctions as much as possible so that it can affect the regime but leave the individual Venezuelans as untouched as possible," she said.

The US and more than 50 other countries recognise Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, as the country's rightful president.

REPRISALS?

A rights office team is currently in Venezuela to assess the crisis.

Civil society groups have said that doctors are coming under pressure from Maduro's government for trying to alert the UN mission about the severe lack of hospital medicine and equipment.

"It is important that the team have completely unhindered access, with no reprisals against any person who has met, or sought to meet, with them," Bachelet told the rights council.

It was not immediately clear if she was referring to the reported pressure facing her staff.

Nearly three million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 and about 5,000 are leaving each day amid a devastating political crisis and economic collapse.

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