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ICC: Venezuela must continue to be investigated

The ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan (REUTERS/Luisa González)

On June 27, 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber (hereinafter “the Chamber”) of the International Criminal Court (hereinafter “ICC”) authorized the resumption of the Prosecutor’s investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the matter Venezuela I. The decision follows the ICC prosecutor’s request to continue the investigation after the government asked the court to refer to the investigations carried out by the State in April 2022. The Chamber’s position was based on the reports of the Venezuelan government, the prosecutor, and the observations recently submitted by the victims and their relatives and thus represents another defeat for the government in its attempt to try impeding the truth and accountability.

The Chamber offered several compelling reasons to resume the investigation. The most important consists of the State’s lack of will to investigate crimes against humanity, the limited scope of ongoing investigations, and the delays in proceedings. Some of the substantiations of the court indicate that “Venezuela is not investigating -and does not express any intention to investigate- the allegations of fact that underlie the contextual elements of crimes against humanity”, that “the focus of internal investigations seems to be generally in low-level direct perpetrators” and that “there appear to be periods of unexplained investigative inactivity.”

The Chamber agreed with the prosecution that the recent reforms to the justice system and the investigation measures carried out do not reveal a genuine willingness of the State to comply with its obligations under the Rome Statute. This result is not accidental as Venezuela continues to evade its obligations to implement recommendations on human rights, including those related to access to justice. There is a compendium of decisions, judgments and recommendations on the matter dating back at least to 2002, to which the reports of the Fact-Finding Mission and the OHCHR have been added more visibly.

Days before, the establishment of an ICC office in the country for technical assistance purposes was made official. As part of the principle of complementarity, we all hope that this initiative contributes to the reconstruction of the Rule of Law in Venezuela. However, the official signals continue to be of disqualification and, therefore, of negative nature. In a press release dated April 3, the State responded to the prosecutor’s allegations about the resumption of the investigation stating that “once again, the International Criminal Court shows a clearly prejudiced vision in relation to Venezuela (…)”. On June 27, in another statement, after the decision to resume the investigation, “it denounces the intention to use international criminal justice mechanisms for political purposes” in which the State regrets “that the Pre-Trial Chamber is willing to encourage and contribute to this maneuver, which distorts the ICC’s raison d’être and undermines its credibility (…)”. Similar rejections were expressed by the government on the occasion of the oral update of the High Commissioner on July 5 before the Human Rights Council.

As long as the State continues to stigmatize the work of international organizations, as it does with its own political dissidents and civil society, there will be no possibility of generating real changes in the country’s situation. It is fundamental that the Prosecutor’s Office closely observe the restrictive language of the State and how this crystallizes in measures to hinder the investigation of crimes or even committing reprisals against victims, relatives, and defenders. In this regard, the work of the ICC office should firmly aim to contain future abuses in the search for justice by the thousands of victims in Venezuela.

AlertaVenezuela calls on the international community to support the work of the ICC and to continue advocating through its mechanisms so that Venezuela embarks on a path to the structural reforms it needs to meet the obligations of the Rome Statute.