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Venezuela directs attacks against the ICC

Photo: Marina Riera, Human Rights Watch, 2018

On February 28, the term granted to the Venezuelan State to present its observations to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation in the country expired. That day, the State filed a brief to challenge the Prosecutor’s request. However, instead of limiting itself to institutionally processing the legal controversy regarding the adequacy and effectiveness of justice in Venezuela, the State again broke the rules by issuing a statement through the Foreign Ministry discrediting the whole process.

In the statement published on the same date, the State described the process before the ICC as “legal colonialism”, noting that it presented a defense brief “with which it denies all the fallacies of media and geopolitical aggression to accuse Venezuela.” In this position of disqualification, it included the international criminal system itself when affirming that “Venezuela denounced the proven links of the ICC Prosecutor’s Office with non-governmental organizations that have provided information against the national authorities in this matter, which calls into question the due impartiality and objectivity of said court”. In addition to this attack against the international penal system, in line with the official policy of weakening multilateralism, the Twitter account of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry promoted a campaign against the ICC using the hashtag #NoAlColonialismoJurídico.

The aggression in Venezuela takes place in the midst of the participation process of numerous victims of gross crimes before the ICC to find out their opinion on the Prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation in Venezuela. As of February 23, the Victims Participation and Reparations Section indicated in its Second Report that between January 13 and February 14, 2023, it conducted a preliminary evaluation of 80 forms, on behalf of a total of 441 individuals and 47 families. The number of complaints is expected to increase as the expiration of the March 7 deadline approaches. As expected, all the forms support the ICC Prosecutor’s request, as will probably the ones being received at this time. Moreover, the Second Report ruled on the current bill against civil society, stating that it “intends to control, restrict, sanction and dissolve non-governmental organizations. (“NGOs”) operating in Venezuela.” Faced with this, the State chose to attack frontally.

The ICC Prosecutor must present his response to the brief submitted by the State on February 28 by March 21, while the State must issue his opinion on the response that the Prosecutor sends by March 28. March 31 is the deadline for the Prosecutor to issue his report on the allegations submitted by the State. At the same time, after the March 7 deadline for victims to submit their opinions on the resumption of the investigation, the Victims Participation and Reparations Section must submit a report on the contributions received by March 21. As of April 2023, the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether the investigation into Venezuela must continue or not is awaited.

It is fundamental that the international community continues providing protection for victims in Venezuela and abroad after engaging for the first time before the ICC and that it adopts all the necessary measures to guarantee the proper functioning of international criminal justice in Venezuela considering the State’s possible pressures.