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Flash visit by prosecutor Khan, now what?

Photo ICC

On June 10, without further announcement than a quick mention while in Bogotá, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan made a flash visit to Venezuela. In his brief stay in the country, he met with Maduro, with the prosecutor imposed by the national constituent assembly, with the vice president and with the president of the Supreme Court of Justice; he also had a meeting with the diplomatic corps and with the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations system in Venezuela. There were no statements to the press or contact with the victims. Only on June 13, the ICC press office published a note about the visit, which indicates that the Prosecutor preferred to take his time to think carefully about what he wanted to establish about his time in Venezuela.

It is noteworthy that Khan has been in a country allied with Russia, whose government launched an investigation and agreed to an arrest warrant against him, in retaliation for the arrest warrant passed by the ICC Prosecutor’s Office against Putin for the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children issued in March. Maduro should have given Khan guarantees of respect for his immunity as an international official, above his support for Moscow in the atrocities during the invasion of Ukraine.

During his brief visit, Khan signed a memorandum of understanding with Maduro. Although the content of this new memorandum is still unknown, Khan stated that it could ” increase the scale and impact of our field presence in Venezuela, broaden the domestic interface for our work and seek to identify and support meaningful efforts to improve national justice initiatives”.

Back in The Hague, Khan took the opportunity to acknowledge the existence of Maduro’s disagreements with his decisions and recalled that “[t] hat difference of views of course remains, and is reflected in the proceedings presently before the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court, whose authorisation I have sought to resume the investigation following the request by the Government of Venezuela for formal deferral in favour of actions carried out by Venezuelan national authorities”.

The Prosecutor was also careful to highlight the importance of accountability “alongside the human rights work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights”, which again demonstrates the close communication channels open between his office and the OHCHR, especially with the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, whose existence is rejected, attacked and censored by the Maduro government.

What’s next? Khan made it clear that his office will continue to work on two tracks simultaneously: the investigation of the Venezuela I case and the strengthening of the capacities of the Venezuelan justice system to comply with the Rome Statute. He assured that he had already seen facilities where his office could be located in Caracas and reiterated his interest in continuing “to strengthen our crucial engagement with civil society”.

There is no doubt that Prosecutor Khan is attentive to the decision of the Preliminary Affairs Chamber to resume the investigation of the Venezuela I case. In response to his visit, the prosecutor imposed by the constituent assembly maintained that the opening of an office of the ICC in Venezuela is an unnecessary interference and that many complaints about alleged violations of human rights before the ICC are promoted by people who are not victims. Statements such as Saab’s only contribute to the ICC Prosecutor reaffirming his conviction on the need to continue with this investigation.