Venezuela Dismisses OAS ‘Expert’ Panel Push for ICC Investigation

OAS head Luis Almagro could find himself before the ICC with the Bolivian government considering a probe at The Hague over his role in the 2019 coup.

ICC building
The ICC is expected to announce whether it will open a formal investigation into alleged human rights abuses by Venezuelan state officials.

Mexico City, Mexico, August 4, 2021 ( – Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza questioned the legitimacy of an Organization of American States (OAS) panel that called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation concerning alleged crimes against humanity committed by the Venezuelan state.

Arreaza charged that the panel, far from representing the views of experts on international law, was instead composed of experts in “coups, invasions, interference, the promotion of conflict, submission to Washington, and multilateral corruption.”

The panel was set up by OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro in September 2017 to purportedly produce a report ascertaining whether the Venezuelan population had been subject to crimes against humanity stemming from the state’s response to violent protests by opposition extremists earlier in 2017. These protests, known locally as “guarimbas,” saw opposition extremists block roads, attack and burn alive dark skinned citizens deemed to be government supporters, shoot upon security forces and firebomb buildings. Over 130 died during the months-long instability, including numerous policemen, firemen, and many bystanders.

The composition of the panel, which included former Canadian Liberal MP Irwin Cotler—an ally of Venezuelan opposition figures such as Leopoldo López—suggested its report would be a foregone conclusion. The report eventually said that there was a “​​reasonable basis” to conclude that crimes against humanity had taken place.

Former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda would subsequently point to her review of “numerous reports” as justification for the opening of a preliminary investigation. She stepped down from her post earlier this year before announcing her decision concerning the opening of a formal investigation in the case of Venezuela. The decision now falls to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, who replaced Bensouda.

Last month, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I rejected a legal challenge by the Venezuelan government for the chamber to take “judicial control” of an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by state officials. Khan is expected to announce his decision soon.

In its endorsement of a formal investigation, the OAS panel said in a press release that “any further delay would be inappropriate and harmful to the people of Venezuela.”

The ICC is defined as a “complementary” court, which is only able to open legal proceedings in cases in which national legal institutions fail to address them. Venezuelan judicial authorities have submitted several updated reports to the Court detailing the efforts to uphold human rights and advance the cases where state security officials were accused of having committed abuses.

For his part, OAS head Luis Almagro, has expressed his “complete support” for the ICC probe.

Almagro, however, could himself become the target of ICC proceedings after sources indicated that the Bolivian government is considering requesting a probe for complicity in crimes against humanity following Almagro and the OAS election team’s role in the November 2019 coup that saw Jeannine Áñez usurp the presidency.

Former members of the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) also said they would seek judicial proceedings against Almagro over his role in promoting the now-debunked myth that the 2019 Bolivian election was fraudulent. High-ranking Chavista politician Diosdado Cabello likewise threw his weight behind a probe.

Recent changes in the region have left Almagro and other US allies increasingly isolated. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, recently inaugurated, said on the campaign trail that he was committed to “deactivating” the Lima Group within the first 100 days in office; a move that would render the right-wing ad hoc alliance moribund. Additionally, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose government opposed Almagro’s re-election as secretary-general, recently called for OAS to be cast aside and be replaced with a new regional body.

There are presently two cases involving Venezuela at the Hague-based court, one brought forward by the opposition and right-wing allies, as well as a second, brought by the Venezuelan government.

In February of last year Caracas set in motion legal proceedings to have the US government investigated for its unilateral coercive measures, or sanctions, which the Maduro government officials have argued constitute a “crime against humanity”. The United States is not a member of the body and the ICC tends not to rule on inter-state disputes.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.