ICC Prosecutor Opens ‘Technical Assistance Office’ in Venezuela Amid Human Rights Probe

President Maduro expressed hope that collaboration with the ICC would help correct the record about human rights in Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro meets with International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas. (ICC)

Mexico City, Mexico, June 12, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan in Caracas to announce the opening of a technical assistance office in the country amidst a probe for alleged crimes against humanity.

The pair signed a renewed memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Friday from the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

During a joint press conference, Khan said the office would focus on accompanying Venezuelan officials with “technical assistance” and “training” in order to help Venezuela “meet its obligations” under the Rome Statute, the international treaty that governs the ICC.

For his part, Maduro called Khan’s visit satisfactory, while echoing the prosecutor’s focus on the complementary nature of the work of the new ICC office in Venezuela. The Venezuelan leader added that the country’s doors would always be open. Maduro also expressed hope that collaboration with the ICC would help correct the record about human rights in Venezuela.

Khan’s latest trip to Venezuela was the third such visit since 2021, when he opted to open a full-scale investigation. His November 2021 visit led to the first MOU, with plans for an office subsequently announced in April of last year.

The Venezuelan government’s decision to sign a new MOU with the court reflects the country’s interest in collaborating with the prosecutor’s probe. Khan’s investigation stems from a request filed before the ICC by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, with support from Washington and a handful of allied countries, 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 known as “guarimbas” that saw US-backed opposition groups block roads, burn people alive, and shoot upon security forces resulting in the deaths of over 130 people.

However, despite the Venezuelan government firmly disagreeing with Khan’s decision to launch a full-scale investigation, Maduro has forced into a delicate balance act, cooperating with the prosecutor while also reiterating his government’s rejection of the probe.

Other notable government officials have been less subtle about Khan’s work in the country. Ranking Chavista figure Diosdado Cabello has sharply criticized the ICC prosecutor, accusing him of working on behalf of Washington and of holding a “bias” against Venezuela.

Khan has regularly faced criticism alleging he is carrying out his duties as ICC prosecutor in a partial manner. Before his visit to Caracas, Khan spent two days in Colombia where he again rejected calls to reopen the court’s investigation into crimes against humanity committed during the country’s long-running internal conflict.

The ICC closed its preliminary examination in Colombia after 17 years, with the prosecutor arguing that the country’s domestic institutions are capable of providing justice to victims. Venezuela has unsuccessfully sought similar treatment from the court.

The Hague-based tribunal is defined as a “complementary” court that should only open legal proceedings in cases in which national legal institutions fail to address alleged violations. Khan, who took office as ICC prosecutor in June 2021 after having been nominated by the United Kingdom, has similarly talked about the importance of “the principle of complementarity” in the carrying out his duties.

Nonetheless, he has refused calls to close his probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela. The Caribbean nation 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 February, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil voiced his criticism of the ICC investigation, calling it an instance of “judicial colonialism”.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s judicial institutions have moved to prosecute cases of human rights abuses from state security forces. The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office submitted regular reports to the ICC, updating the court on progress concerning local prosecutions and convictions.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab held a separate meeting with Khan on Thursday where he once again laid out the country’s progress in securing justice for victims of alleged human rights violations by state officials.

In an interview with EFE, Saab stressed that the ICC office would focus on “inter-institutional” cooperation and that the Venezuelan government has demonstrated its “clear intention” to secure justice with the interference of an external court. Khan likewise met with Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez during his visit to the country.

The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I must still rule on Khan’s petition seeking authorisation to resume the investigation in Venezuela after the country requested a deferral in favor of the actions carried out by the national authorities of Venezuela.

Neither Maduro nor Khan made any mention of the second situation involving Venezuela at the ICC, filed by the country’s government concerning the application of unilateral coercive measures by the United States against Venezuela.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.