Caracas, November 7, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government rejected the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s announcement to resume an investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed by state security forces.
“Venezuela regrets that, despite all the information provided and the fluid exchanges with the ICC throughout the year, prosecutor Karim Khan maintains a clearly biased view in relation to the situation in Venezuela, echoing campaigns that seek to instrumentalize justice and human rights issues for political purposes,” read a statement released on Saturday.
The communique, published by Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Faría, likewise expressed concern that the ICC prosecutor's request to continue the suspended probe “is basically based on secondary sources lacking any credibility.”
Caracas stated that it would push back against the probe's resumption in the ICC’s pre-trial chamber "to defend the truth and demonstrate the productive work of the authorities in the investigation of all the complaints of serious crimes against people."
On Tuesday, prosecutor Khan formally asked the Hague-based court judges for authorization to continue an investigation into alleged human rights violations opened a year ago. The probe had been temporarily suspended in April following the Venezuelan government's petition to defer the ICC jurisdiction in favor of the ongoing investigations carried out by the country’s justice system.
According to article 18(2) of the Rome Statute, the ICC plays a complementary role and should only open legal proceedings in cases in which national legal institutions fail to address alleged violations.
The ICC probe was officially launched in November 2021 during Khan’s visit to Venezuela where he met with a number of governmental and judicial authorities. Despite disagreeing with the prosecutor’s decision, President Nicolás Maduro opted for a collaborative approach and signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate cooperation with the ICC.
In the agreement, the parties highlighted that the investigation would be “to determine the truth and whether or not there are grounds to file charges.” The ICC agreed to recognize Venezuelan institutions’ reforms and efforts to enforce justice in cases of possible human rights abuses.
Khan visited the Caribbean country a second time in March where he announced the ICC would open an international "technical assistance office" in Caracas and would arrange multiple-entry visas for ICC staff. President Maduro explained that this would allow an “effective dialogue” to solve cases in a timely manner.
The ICC full-scale probe resulted from a suit filed in September 2018 by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition forces, with support from Washington and Latin American allies, accusing the Maduro government of crimes against humanity. The allegations were mostly based on the Venezuelan state’s response to the 2017 violent anti-government protests.
Known locally as “guarimbas,” the 2017 months-long protests saw US-backed opposition groups block roads in several cities, burn people alive, shoot upon security forces and firebomb state buildings. More than 130 people died, including policemen, firemen, and bystanders. According to an inquiry by the Attorney General's Office, 28 percent of the victims were security officers, 42 percent opposition protesters and the rest died under different circumstances.
The Venezuelan government has reiterated its commitment to defend human rights and prosecute offenders and since 2020 has provided documented progress against alleged offenders.
In February, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced that two members of the armed forces had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the in-custody death of retired Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo in June 2019. Arévalo’s homicide was one of the high-profile cases cited by the opposition before the ICC as evidence of human rights violations.
Since June 2021, the Maduro government has embarked on a “judicial revolution” to overhaul the country’s bureaucratic administration of justice as well as overcrowding in prisons. In April, the National Assembly (AN) appointed new Supreme Court justices following an extensive reform of the country’s Judicial System Law to restructure institutions.
In July, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recognized Venezuela’s advances to improve the judicial system but took exception to an alleged lack of judicial independence, in a report presented in Geneva during the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
Bachelet’s document praised the dissolution of the Venezuelan FAES special forces, one of the institutions accused of alleged extrajudicial executions and torture, and acknowledged a significant reduction in the number of deaths in security operations as well as the improvement of penitentiary conditions.
Soon after, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela also published a report claiming that President Maduro and other high-ranking Venezuelan officials were directly involved in arbitrary arrests and torture.
Venezuelan human rights collective SURES disputed the report’s “unreliable” methodology as it was based on 246 anonymous interviews, making claims impossible to independently verify. For its part, Caracas rejected the “false accusations” and stated that the fact-finding mission’s “pamphlet” had “no direct contact with the country’s reality.” The controversial three-person mission had its mandate renewed for a further two years in October.
The Venezuelan government has repeatedly said that any investigation into possible human rights abuses should take into consideration the consequences of Washington’s sanctions on the country's population. In February 2020, Caracas filed its own suit before the ICC to have sanctions classed as crimes against humanity. So far, the international tribunal has offered no updates on this case.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.
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