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Justice and negotiation must go hand in hand

On April 21, 2023, the Section for Victim Participation and Reparations of the International Criminal Court (VPRS) published a report on its website stating that the Venezuelan State “is not willing to investigate and prosecute” the actions perpetrated by the security forces and armed groups that have affected various rights of the population. As of March 7, 2023, the document reported 1,875 opinions, excluding duplicate and other withdrawn forms, containing approximately 8,900 individuals, 2 institutions or organizations, and approximately 630 families. According to the report, “victims overwhelmingly support the OTP Request.They maintain that the Venezuelan Government is unwilling to genuinely investigate and prosecute the crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela,with total impunity,by State authorities,security forces,and the‘colectivos”[1]

The VPRS report states that the main reasons for supporting the investigation of the ICC prosecutor are the following. First, the perceived lack of judicial independence and impartiality of the Venezuelan judiciary is widely referred to by victims in their forms, and supported by observations from both international and national reports. Second, the judicial reform measures adopted in Venezuela are limited and do not address the lack of genuine processes. Third, the ICC must bring the perpetrators to justice, since in Venezuela those most responsible for the commission of crimes are being shielded from criminal responsibility. Fourth and last reason, the ICC investigation is seen as a unique opportunity for the voices of the victims to be heard, to learn the truth about what happened to them, to put an end to impunity and to prevent future crimes.

Likewise, the VPRS report contains different aspects that reflect the Venezuelan reality, such as the “challenging security situation to which victims and human rights defenders and other sectors of civil society such as journalists are exposed.” It also refers to the draft Law for the Control, Regularization, Action and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations, which is described by the VPRS as “another effort to obstruct and control civil society in Venezuela.” In the same way, common concerns are pointed out in the forms, such as that numerous victims did not participate for security reasons and fear of reprisals, due to logistical challenges regarding Internet connectivity or electrical service, as well as lack of information in the context of the widespread censorship imposed by the government, among others.

The document states that not only the victims support the continuation of the process before the ICC, but they also ask that the investigation extend its temporal and material framework, so that it covers a greater number of crimes committed since 2014, including crimes of murder. and forced displacement. All of this once again reaffirms the lack of capacity and political will to do justice in Venezuela and rather corresponds to an intention to give a procedural appearance to guarantee impunity for the perpetrators.

Given the compelling evidence before the ICC, the Venezuelan government, through statements by its spokesman Jorge Rodríguez, has decided to condition the continuation of the dialogue process in Mexico on the closing of the investigation by the International Criminal Court. Maduro’s spokesman alleges that the ICC investigations “directly affect our most important leaders,” despite the fact that, so far, the ICC has not identified names.

This demand – ignored in the statement read by the Colombian foreign minister at the end of the Summit on Venezuela in Bogotá – cannot be accepted peacefully. Negotiation and justice can and should go hand in hand, but not using impunity as a bargaining chip. The international community has a role so that the government resumes the path of negotiation, understanding it as an opportunity to restructure its justice system and advance in political agreements that guarantee democratic governance.

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