Venezuela Condemns ‘Judicial Colonialism’ of International Criminal Court

In an address to UN Human Rights Council, Foreign Minister Yván Gil called sanctions against Venezuela a crime against humanity and a violation of international law.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil addresses the 2023 Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Mexico City, Mexico, February 28, 2023 ( – The Venezuelan government stepped up its criticism of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a statement issued Tuesday that charged the court with engaging in “judicial colonialism” as a result of the ongoing probe of alleged human rights abuses.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced in November 2022 that he would resume a formal investigation into alleged human rights violations committed by Venezuelan state security forces in its response to violent anti-government protests in 2017.

The statement from the Venezuelan government strongly criticized the manner in which that investigation has been since carried out. In a document submitted to the court, the government alleged that “various irregularities and violations of due process” had transpired, creating a climate of “defenselessness” for the Venezuelan state.

Specifically, the statement criticized the “proven links” of the ICC Prosecutor’s Office with biased NGOs. The government maintains that the “impartiality and objectivity” of the court is undermined.

Furthermore, the Caracas reaffirmed its doubts about the fairness of the entire process. Venezuela has long claimed that the probe is politically motivated and forms part of a regime change strategy designed to oust the Nicolás Maduro government from power.

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 suit was filed shortly before opposition figure Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president” with the backing of the US and its regional allies. The “interim government” strategy formed part of a broader “maximum pressure” campaign driven by Washington seeking the ouster of Maduro.

The latest statement appears to represent a shift in the Venezuelan government’s approach to the ICC investigation. Despite disagreeing with the probe, President Maduro originally opted to collaborate with the court and signed a memorandum of understanding with Khan to facilitate cooperation with the ICC in late 2021. Khan made a second visit to the Caribbean country in March 2022 where he announced the ICC would open an international “technical assistance office” in Caracas.

Since then the Venezuelan prosecutor’s office has focused its efforts on cases where state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses. The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office submitted regular reports to the ICC, updating the court on progress concerning local prosecutions and convictions.

Despite the apparent progress, Khan nonetheless resumed his formal investigation.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab later announced in February 2022 that two members of the armed forces implicated in the in-custody death of retired Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo had been sentenced to 30 years in prison. Saab said at the time that the convictions and sentencing further demonstrated Venezuela’s “commitment to full justice and punishment for those who violate human rights.”

The Maduro government has also embarked on a “judicial revolution” to overhaul the country’s bureaucratic administration of justice as well as prison overcrowding. The National Assembly (AN) went on to appoint new Supreme Court justices following an extensive reform of the country’s Judicial System Law.

International jurists have stressed that according to the Rome Statute that governs the court, 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 has likewise been criticized for its selective prosecutions. In 2020, the court quickly abandoned a probe into the United States war crimes in Afghanistan. Khan also closed down a preliminary examination in Colombia, opened in 2004, into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the decades-long conflict. Colombia was governed at the time by US ally Iván Duque.

“The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela ratifies that it will continue to exercise all the actions at its disposal to make the truth prevail and defend its rights as a Nation, against this formula of judicial colonialism that intends to use the institutional framework of the International Criminal Court for political purposes, in clear contravention of its raison d’être and the norms and principles of International Law,” concluded the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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. The international tribunal has offered no updates and the case remains in the “Preliminary examination” phase since being filed.

Following his visit to the country in January, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called on member states to suspend measures such as sanctions that undermine human rights and aggravate the economic crisis in Venezuela.

In an address Tuesday to the 52nd Ordinary Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil reiterated his country’s commitment to the protection of human rights while also denouncing the sanctions applied against his country, calling them a crime against humanity and a violation of international law.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.