Mexico City, Mexico, June 27, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government expressed its disagreement with the decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to accept Prosecutor Karim Khan’s petition to resume a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed during violent anti-government protests.
The decision comes days after Khan’s most recent visit to Venezuela where he met with President Nicolás Maduro and announced the opening of a technical assistance office in the country.
During Khan’s visit, the pair emphasized the complementary nature of the work of the ICC. 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.
The Venezuelan government has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the state’s commitment to prosecute cases of human rights abuses from state security forces and thus avoid the reopening of a formal probe into alleged crimes against humanity.
The Pre-Trial Chamber I, made up of Presiding Judge Péter Kovács, along with Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and María del Socorro Flores Liera, nonetheless felt that the domestic investigations being carried out by Venezuelan institutions were insufficient to satisfy the Chamber.
“The Chamber concluded that, whilst Venezuela is taking some investigative steps, its domestic criminal proceedings do not sufficiently mirror the scope of the Prosecution’s intended investigation,” read the ICC statement.
The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office has submitted regular reports to the ICC, updating the court on progress concerning local prosecutions and convictions. However, the judges determined that the Venezuelan investigations were directed on lower level perpetrators and was “not investigating the factual allegations underlying the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.”
Khan’s prosecution rests on allegations that high-level officials instructed state security forces to act with discriminatory intent as part of a broader pattern of political persecution, behavior that rises to the level of crimes against humanity.
The ICC investigation stems from a request filed before the Court by a handful of countries on behalf of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition accusing the Maduro government of committing crimes against humanity as a result of the state’s response to the violent anti-government protests known as “guarimbas” in 2014 and 2017 that saw US-backed opposition groups block roads, burn people alive, and shoot upon security forces. Both spurts of violence more than a hundred dead.
The Office of the Prosecutor received a referral to open a probe in September 2018, subsequently announcing in November 2021 that the Prosecution would proceed with investigations. At the time the Maduro government and the Court signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate cooperation, which was subsequently renewed this month.
The Court’s probe into abuses was suspended in April 2022 at Venezuela’s request on the basis of complementarity in order to allow national authorities to carry out its own investigations. In November 2022, the Prosecution filed a request before the Pre-Trial Chamber seeking authorisation to resume the investigation.
In its statement, the Venezuelan government reiterated its stance that the probe is politically motivated and forms part of a US-led plot designed to oust Maduro from power.
“Venezuela has denounced the instrumentalization of international criminal justice mechanisms for political purposes, linked to the ‘regime change’ strategy promoted by the authorities of the United States of America,” read the statement issued on Tuesday.
While the administration accepts that security forces committed human rights abuses, it maintains that the “crimes against humanity” classification does not apply.
The Chamber did not close the door to the possibility that it could determine inadmissibility on the basis of complementarity at a future date while emphasizing that assessment of domestic proceedings “is an ongoing process and requires continued dialogue between the relevant State and the Court.”
As a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty legitimizing the ICC, Caracas has been forced into a delicate balancing act, cooperating with the prosecutor while also reiterating its rejection of the probe. The Maduro government’s extensive cooperation with Khan’s office reflects its desire to see the probe closed on the basis of complementarity.
High-ranking figures inside the Maduro government have nonetheless been openly critical of the probe, accusing Khan of bias and double-standards. The ICC prosecutor refused 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. 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.
In its statement, the Venezuelan government said it would appeal the decision by the Chamber. After concluding its investigation, the prosecution must still formally present a case before the Court.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Mérida.