On March 30, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) addressed the Preliminary Questions Chamber to request authorization to continue the investigation into the Venezuela I case, for the alleged commission of crimes against humanity affecting inhabitants of Venezuela. As of March 7, 2023, more than 2,000 forms had been sent by individual or collective victims to the Victim Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) with testimonies about impunity in Venezuela and with explanations about the reasons why they do not trust the justice of the country. In this way, the Prosecutor would have arguments to request authorization to continue his investigation, as he, in effect, has just done.
In his brief, Prosecutor Khan dismantles the government’s allegations one by one, which insists on questioning the competence of the ICC in the Venezuela I case. As is well known, in international criminal justice the principle of complementarity operates, which seeks to avoid duplicity of efforts in justice. In other words, if the national justice system is investigating and is capable of sanctioning and making reparations, it makes no sense for the ICC to displace and duplicate the activity of national bodies. Since the beginning of the Venezuela I case, the country’s government has tried to pretend a justice that in fact does not exist, in order to avoid the intervention of the ICC. That is precisely what Khan dismantles in his communication, when he affirms that Venezuela considers the acts investigated by the Prosecutor to be isolated events, to the point of denying the existence of crimes against humanity, in such a way that its own denial constitutes an admission that Venezuela’s judiciary is not properly investigating the allegations.
Kahn reiterates arguments put forward on previous occasions, such as that the few legal proceedings that have been carried out target only low-ranking officials “with no apparent investigation of the high-level perpetrators and/of the members of the colectivos“, and that Venezuela has not carried out a major investigation that aims to establish responsibilities at the highest levels, nor to identify the repressive structures that have allowed the commission of these crimes, precisely due to the fact that Venezuela continues to consider these events as isolated incidents and that they are not sufficiently grave.
In addition, the Prosecutor dismantles other government allegations that refer to substantive issues about the facts that require investigation in areas such as torture, political persecution, sexual violence and deprivation of liberty, the seriousness of which the government had tried to minimize.
In his conclusions, Kahn remains firm in his demands, without falling into the trap of the alleged efforts for justice on the part of Venezuela; he acknowledges that the government “has tried to cooperate” but insists that this does not justify the postponement of the investigation.
The Prosecutor’s request occurs in the context of an alleged campaign to fight corruption in Venezuela, undertaken by the National Police against Corruption (PNCC), a body created by Maduro in 2014 and which follows his direct orders.
As of April 4, 2023, at least 42 people have been detained in this hunt. The first group of detainees was taken to the presentation hearing in a place that was not a court, ten days after being detained, despite the fact that the law establishes that the presentation must be made within a period of 48 hours, they were detained by the PNCC, a ghost police, which has no headquarters, no faces, and no head, and they were held in El Helicoide, a political police torture center. In this regard, AlertaVenezuela joined a call from several Venezuelan NGOs demanding that the fight against corruption not be carried out outside the guarantees of due process.
One of the detainees had been appointed substitute magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice in April 2022, as part of the so-called judicial revolution, in a selection process that did not comply with the provisions of the Constitution. The official was sworn in as a judge of the Court of Appeals and president of the Criminal Judicial Circuit since October 29 of the same year and was one of the first arrested on March 18, 2023. The same judicial revolution that appointed him now haunts him, while his vacancy is filled by a former prosecutor from the Public Ministry who had been dismissed in October 2018 and who is among the first people sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury, accused of violations of human rights, those that Kahn is now investigating.
The ICC Prosecutor has plenty of reasons not to believe in the judicial revolution, in empty announcements, in investigations that appear to not get to the bottom of the crimes committed. High Commissioner Volker Türk must observe the same caution in the face of promises that do not correspond to the facts, so that his words and actions for human rights in Venezuela do not lose credibility.