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Technical assistance should not distract from protection and justice needs

Visit of the ICC Prosecutor Karin Khan to Caracas, between April 22 and 24, 2024
Visit of the ICC Prosecutor Karin Khan to Caracas, between April 22 and 24, 2024

Between April 22 and 24, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karin Khan, was in Venezuela for the fourth time. At the end of his visit, he inaugurated an in-country office in Caracas. The office is not yet operational, although it is presented as an achievement of the second Memorandum of Understanding, the content of which remains confidential. In the same way, there is a set of information of public interest that has to do with the progress of the relationship between the Prosecutor’s Office and the State, such as the joint work plan and the specific parameters to implement the principle of complementarity in the context of an investigation that must continue its course.

The opening of the technical office raises more questions than answers. One of the main unknowns is what will happen if efforts to strengthen the Venezuelan justice system do not translate into the establishment of genuine judicial processes to punish those most responsible. Khan spoke of “certain milestones and deadlines” to ensure that there is progress, but it is difficult to follow up on this matter in the absence of information. The validity of the Rome Statute also requires a framework of transparency to seek and advocate for justice in the Venezuelan case.

At this time, the statement of April 12, 2022 signed by several national and international organizations is valid. There are some concerns about the scope, operation and security guarantees of the ICC Office, which is why a sufficient budget and provision of high-level personnel with knowledge in the field, a willingness to work with other actors beyond the OHCHR – such as the Fact-Finding Mission -, the construction of a space for genuine and safe dialogue with victims, family members and civil society, and the adoption of a transversal gender approach in the work of the Office, were required.

While the details of the new technical office are known, the OHCHR office could soon return to Caracas after a dialogue between the State and the ICC Prosecutor. Nicolás Maduro had stated that he is “prepared to receive envoy Volker Türk” in the framework of a press conference accompanied by Khan. However, weeks after the announcement, secrecy continues regarding the status of the talks, which constitutes a significant obstacle both for the monitoring and attention on the ground of the situation in Venezuela and for the work that the ICC Office hopes to carry out through technical assistance agreements.

Venezuela’s times in recent weeks have changed drastically. Pre-electoral political repression increases incessantly while the spaces for dialogue between these international bodies and the State are maintained with bilateral, secret formulas, and with confusion for civil society. The UN working group on enforced disappearances denounced on April 30 the “alarming increase in enforced disappearances before the presidential elections,” noting that these practices “could have a chilling effect and hinder the population’s right to vote freely.” As a sign of restrictive patterns that are becoming more acute, a few days before the activists Victor Castillo and Ámbar Márquez, linked to Maria Corina Machado’s team, were detained, and presented before a court in Acarigua, Portuguesa state, without the right to defense and incommunicado. The same fate befell Oscar Castañeda, a citizen whose “crime” was simply speaking out at a public event showing his support for Machado.

Given the possible operation of two technical offices in the country, AlertaVenezuela calls to maintain focus on the work of protection and search for justice that the OHCHR and the ICC Prosecutor’s Office could– and must – jointly serve. Technical assistance cannot be a motive to narratively strengthen the government and prevent it from being held accountable for the damage it inflicts on the population through increased pre-electoral repression. On the contrary, in times of greater political violence against civil society, the measuring sticks to demand rapid and effective changes to the government must be stricter and in line with existing international recommendations on justice and comprehensive reparation. It is necessary that both the OHCHR and the ICC Prosecutor’s Office agree on a protection strategy adjusted to the current times in Venezuela and incorporate the Fact-Finding Mission into the agenda.