ICC Opens Probe into Venezuela, Signs Cooperation Deal with the Maduro Gov’t

The Venezuelan government disagreed with the Hague-based court opening a formal investigation but respected the decision and called for “positive complementarity.”

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The agreement signed between President Maduro and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan established that the investigation phase “is to determine whether there are grounds to file charges against any person.” (Twitter /@NicolasMaduro)
The agreement signed between President Maduro and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan established that the investigation phase “is to determine whether there are grounds to file charges against any person.” (Twitter /@NicolasMaduro)
By Andreína Chávez Alava
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Guayaquil, Ecuador, November 04, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Nicolás Maduro government and International Criminal Court (ICC) signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate cooperation after chief prosecutor Karim Khan decided to open a full-scale investigation into alleged human rights abuses in Venezuela.

“The ICC prosecutor has concluded the preliminary examination into Venezuela and will proceed to open a probe to establish the truth following the Rome Statute,” reads the document presented in Caracas during a joint press conference on Wednesday, following Khan’s three-day visit to the country.

In September 2018, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, with support from Washington and a handful of allied countries, filed a suit before the ICC accusing the Maduro government of carrying out crimes against humanity. The allegations stemmed from the state’s response to the 2017 violent anti-government protests. After a preliminary exam, the Hague-based prosecution decided to launch a formal probe.

Known locally as “guarimbas,” the 2017 protests saw US-backed opposition groups block roads, burn people alive, shoot upon security forces and firebomb buildings. Over 130 people died during the months-long instability, including policemen, firemen and bystanders. According to the Truth and Justice Commission set up in August 2017, 28 percent of the deaths were caused by security officials, compared to 42 percent caused by opposition and instigators and the rest under different circumstances.

The signed memorandum highlights that “no suspect or target has been identified,” stressing that the investigation phase “is to determine the truth and whether or not there are grounds to file charges.” In addition, the ICC agreed to recognize the Caribbean country’s efforts, reforms and investigations.

The text likewise noted the Maduro government's disagreement with the ICC prosecutor's decision, with Caracas arguing that the requirements to move to the investigation phase “were not met.” Authorities consider that the complaints should be investigated by state institutions created for this purpose.

"We respect his [Khan's] decision, though we have made clear we do not share it," said Maduro in the publicly broadcast press conference.

Despite the differing opinions, the Venezuelan leader said that the agreement with the ICC will guarantee "cooperation, positive complementarity, mutual support and constructive dialogue to seek truth and justice."

For his part, Khan emphasized that the Court’s investigation should not be politicized. “We are committed to working collaboratively and independently. We are guided by the principles of legality and the rule of law,” he said.

The British lawyer also praised the Venezuelan authorities’ “open dialogue” as well as their commitment to upholding the Rome Statute, which the country subscribed to on June 7, 2000.

Following the investigation announcement, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab stated that his office “will no longer work blindly with the ICC.” The country’s top prosecutor stressed that the international body will have to inform local authorities about the cases being reviewed.

“When we talk about positive complementarity, we mean that the ICC will have to actively cooperate with the Venezuelan state in everything it requires to investigate, sanction individuals and offer reparations to victims,” Saab told reporters on Thursday.

The Venezuelan official has constantly criticized the global court’s lack of cooperation with the nation’s judicial system despite submitting eight reports detailing efforts to advance cases and bring charges against state security officials who allegedly committed abuses during the 2017 events.

Speaking to Venezuelanalysis, Venezuelan legal expert Laila Tajeldine explained that despite opposing the formal probe, the Maduro government expressed its openness to “revise every case” and work closely with the ICC.

“Venezuela has nothing to fear. The country has shown a constant policy of defense and upholding of human rights,” said the lawyer.

Tajeldine, however, recalled that the ICC has a long history of being a politicized organization despite the British prosecutor’s statement. “It has never opened an investigation into a powerful country and has only focused on the persecution of African nations, leading to many of them abandoning the jurisdiction.”

In 2020, the Court quickly abandoned a probe into the United States war crimes in Afghanistan, with former president Donald Trump going as far as sanctioning the ICC authorities.

For a closer example of the Court’s bias, Tajeldine pointed at Colombia. Before arriving in Venezuela, the ICC’s chief prosecutor visited the neighboring country where he closed down a preliminary examination, opened in 2004, into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the decades-long conflict.

“Colombia is one of the countries where impunity prevails, where human rights are violated and yet the investigation has been shut down,” she argued. Over 1,200 social leaders have reportedly been killed since the 2016 Peace Accords.

The Venezuelan jurist expressed hope that the ICC would also move forward with the suit filed by the Venezuelan government in February 2020. In this separate case, the Maduro administration requested that the US government be investigated for “crimes against humanity” inflicted through the imposition of coercive unilateral measures.

“This case is extremely important and it could earn the Court some credibility,” Tajeldine concluded. The ICC has offered no updates on this legal action so far. Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.

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