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ICC prosecutor must investigate at the service of victims in Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro y Karim Khan signed a memorandum of understanding at the government palace in Miraflores, Caracas, on November 3, 2021. Public domain image

After a three-day unexpected visit in Venezuela, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, at a press conference accompanied by Nicolás Maduro at the government palace in Miraflores, Caracas, announced that “The ICC prosecutor has concluded his preliminary examination of the situation in Venezuela and has determined that it is appropriate to open an investigation to establish the truth in accordance with the Rome Statute”. Venezuela thus becomes the first Latin American country in which a formal investigation by this international court takes place.

Progress to the investigation stage means that the ICC Prosecutor’s Office will seek to determine which specific situations and cases constitute possible crimes against humanity. The decision comes after the publication in August 2021 of a report by the former prosecutor, Fatouh Bensouda, which states that «the authorities have no interest in genuinely investigating and/or prosecuting such cases.» It was also followed by a September report from the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela that established that there are reasonable grounds to consider crimes of this nature have been committed in Venezuela, highlighting not only the absence of investigations and effective convictions, but the active participation of the justice system in the perpetration of serious acts under systematic patterns.

The decision of the Prosecutor’s Office takes place in the context of a memorandum of understanding with the Venezuelan government in which, by the effect of the principle of complementarity, the national authorities undertake to carry out serious and effective investigations to convict those most responsible and reverse the prevailing impunity, in accordance with article 82 of the Rome Statute. The duty of cooperation established in such an article is understood as the reinforced obligation assumed by Venezuela to act firmly in the restoration of justice. To achieve this objective, the State must implement reforms to the justice system and work closely with the Prosecutor’s Office, which reaffirmed its interest in closely monitoring the progress of the situation with a second visit to the country.

The Venezuelan human rights movement has celebrated this news because of the progress made in the search for justice. However, they also stressed that accompaniment efforts of victims should be redoubled given the possible revictimization conditions in the framework of a complex process taking several years, as well as the need of preparing themselves for the governmental strategy in the face of this new setback.

Under the framework of this investigation phase, AlertVenezuela urges the ICC Prosecutor’s Office to guarantee the realization of two transversal principles of Public International Law: 1) international cooperation is first with the victims, not the States, prioritizing rapprochement and protection of the defenders and mainly the victims of Venezuela and; 2) make their actions transparent within the framework of a judicial process adhering to human rights standards that includes the participation of interested parties. The action of the ICC Prosecutor’s Office in accordance with the Rome Statute will have to be endorsed by the international community so that it can remain at the service of justice. Advocacy strategies for this commendable work must start building.