Venezuela: Attorney General Decries ICC ‘Persecution’ and ‘Lawfare’

The decision to resume a human rights probe was classed as “unfounded” by the Maduro government.
ICC probe resumption
The Hague-based court is investigating alleged human rights violations committed by security forces during violent anti-government protests in 2017. (ICC)

Caracas, March 4, 2024 ( – Venezuelan authorities have objected to an International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to resume a probe against the Caribbean nation for alleged human rights abuses.

“We reject this decision which insists on the path of instrumentalizing international criminal justice for political goals,” Attorney General Tarek William Saab said in a press conference on Friday.

According to Saab, the latest ruling follows a pattern of “persecution” and “lawfare” against Venezuela.

The so-called “Venezuela I” case stems from a 2018 request filed by a handful of countries on behalf of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition accusing the Nicolás Maduro administration of committing crimes against humanity during the 2017 violent anti-government “guarimba” protests.

Caracas has consistently criticized the probe and pointed at crimes committed by US-backed opposition activists, including blocking roads, burning people alive and firing at security forces. In spite of its objections, the Maduro government signed a memorandum of understanding with ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan and allowed him to establish a technical assistance office in Caracas.

In November, Venezuela filed an appeal requesting the suspension of the investigation on the basis of the complementarity principle established in the Rome statute that guides ICC procedures. The Hague-based court is defined as a court of last resort that should only launch legal proceedings in cases where national institutions fail to address alleged violations.

Lawyers representing Venezuela pointed to ongoing efforts by the country’s judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute state officials accused of committing human rights violations. They also criticized the ICC for rejecting documentation submitted by Caracas.

On Friday, the ICC’s Appeals Chamber announced its rejection of the appeal, with judges unanimously backing a prior decision granting Khan permission to resume the investigation.

In its judgment, the court’s justices argued that “the scope of the burden of proof is not limited to the mere existence of domestic investigations.” They also brought up that crimes against humanity are not incorporated into Venezuelan legislation.

In his press conference, Venezuelan Attorney General Saab stated that his office has submitted 14 “extensive reports” and 300 other forms of documentation. He claimed that, according to information secured by his office, the ICC has only reviewed 20 percent of the supplied information.

“What is the point of a country adhering to the Rome Statute?” Saab asked. “The latest ruling is an affront to the memorandum [signed with Khan].”

The country’s top prosecutor went on to point out that the court’s efforts against the South American country stand in stark contrast to its inaction concerning ongoing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

“While the ICC makes statements about Venezuela, it holds complete silence on the Gaza situation,” he emphasized.

However, Saab insisted that Venezuelan judicial instances would continue to cooperate with the Hague-based tribunal out of a “respect for true international justice.”

The Maduro government likewise expressed its “disagreement” with the “unfounded” ICC ruling.

“As a sovereign state, Venezuela is entitled to carry out its own criminal proceedings in domestic courts, free from foreign meddling,” the statement read. Caracas thanked the ICC for the assistance provided through its local office but reiterated that the ongoing probe is “neither necessary nor appropriate.”

The communique concluded with Venezuela’s commitment to “the rule of law and international legality,” as well as a pledge to continue “taking all necessary steps against the instrumentalization of international criminal law.”

For its part, the Maduro government has initiated a separate case at the ICC, labeled “Venezuela II,” arguing that US sanctions constitute crimes against humanity.