ICC Prosecutor Visits Venezuela, Opens Office and Promises Deeper Cooperation

The latest trip marks Karim Khan’s fourth visit to Venezuela and follows the ICC’s decision to resume a probe into alleged human rights abuses.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan addresses Venezuela’s National Assembly. (@IntlCrimCourt / X)

Mexico City, Mexico, April 23, 2024 (venezuelanalysis.com) – International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan made his fourth visit to Venezuela to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other high-ranking officials.

Khan declared that his intent was to jointly develop a workplan with the Venezuelan government to investigate alleged crimes against humanity and sign cooperating agreements with various state institutions. A message posted by the ICC account on social media said Khan and Maduro seek an “effective implementation” of the Rome Statute, the treaty legitimizing the ICC. 

The prosecutor’s trip comes after the Hague-based court opted to resume a probe against the Caribbean nation for alleged human rights violations following its rejection of an appeal by Venezuela requesting the suspension of the investigation.

During his visit, Khan went on to officially open a “technical assistance” office in Venezuela. He emphasized that this was not a “secret” office but rather one established in cooperation with Venezuelan officials. Plans for the prosecutor’s office were originally announced in April 2022.

Khan’s agenda also included a joint session at Venezuela’s National Assembly and talks with Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.

Caracas has a complicated relationship with the ICC. The Maduro government has pursued extensive cooperation with Khan’s office while at the same time criticizing the investigation as biased and politically driven, viewing it as part of an effort to promote regime change in Venezuela. 

Venezuelan authorities have emphasized that multilateral institutions must respect the country’s sovereignty. In February, the Maduro administration ordered the closure of a local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights after accusing its members of behaving “inappropriately” in regard to arrests over alleged coup plots.

The ICC investigation stems from a petition filed 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. After a preliminary exam, the Hague-based prosecution decided to launch a formal probe.

Caracas has repeatedly sought to have the court suspend its probe on the basis of the complementarity principle. The Hague-based tribunal is defined as a court of last resort that should only open legal proceedings in cases where national legal institutions fail to address alleged violations.

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab, who participated alongside Khan during his presentation at the National Assembly, has previously labeled the investigation a case of “persecution” and “lawfare” against Venezuela. Following the session, he criticized the ICC’s double standard given its lack of action in the face of the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

The Caribbean nation’s authorities have consistently maintained that domestic courts are investigating and prosecuting state officials suspected of committing abuses during violent anti-government protests known as “guarimbas” that saw US-backed opposition groups block roads, burn people alive, and shoot upon security forces. The clashes left 130 people dead, split between opposition activists, security officers, government supporters and bystanders

Saab emphasized the work of the country’s institutions, mentioning that 2,389 state security officials had been formally charged for alleged abuses, with 580 successful prosecutions and convictions to date.

In its June 2022 ruling, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I determined that the Venezuelan investigations were directed on lower level perpetrators and were “not investigating the factual allegations underlying the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.” 

Meanwhile, teleSUR correspondent in Caracas, Madelein García reported that Khan also said that he would tour the country to assess the impact of US-led sanctions on the country. In February 2020, Caracas filed its own lawsuit before the ICC to have sanctions classed as crimes against humanity; that investigation, however, has not proceeded. 

The ICC’s top prosecutor has been accused of bias after refusing a petition to close his probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela, while at the same time rejecting calls to reopen the Court’s investigation into crimes against humanity in neighboring Colombia that were committed during the country’s long-running internal conflict. Khan has likewise come under heavy criticism for his subdued comments concerning the ongoing genocide against Palestinians currently being carried out by Israel and the slow pace of his office’s investigation into human rights abuses in Palestine.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.