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Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

Darwin Nexans
6 min read

ICC prosecutor Karim Kham will have to determine whether the Venezuelan authorities committed crimes against humanity during the 2017 anti-government demonstrations.

Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

In recent days, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, paid a visit to Venezuela as part of the investigation process he is carrying out against the government for alleged crimes against human rights.

The visit generated tensions in society and the political sector, as well as distrust of what could happen, since a large part of Venezuelans distrust their authorities.

The distrust was generated mainly because the ICC official, who is on a tour of Latin America, arrived in the country at the invitation of President Nicolás Maduro.

However, that visit became historic, since at the end of Khan's stay in the territory, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding, in which the ICC formalized and notified Venezuela of the opening of the investigation into the violation of human rights, in addition to the fact that the country must provide the necessary cooperation for the inquiries.

Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

It should be remembered that the ICC is conducting an investigation against Venezuela for the atrocities committed during the protests of 2017. This case, known as “Venezuela I”, went from the preliminary examination phase to a formal investigation.

This fact, in addition to being unprecedented for Venezuela, has become historic for Latin America, since it is the first country in the region to have a formal investigation at the ICC. Something that was not to the liking of Maduro, who during the signing of the Memorandum asserted that he did not share the decision, but that he respected it.

The progress of the investigation means that the ICC will now work to determine the veracity of the accusations of human rights violations during the anti-government demonstrations of 2017, when the Venezuelan people mobilized to protest against food shortages, insecurity and inflation, and was brutally repressed by the national security forces.

What does a formal investigation mean?

The case has been quite extensive, since the preliminary examination began in 2018. This stage has already ended, and it concluded that the ICC has the necessary elements to believe that the Venezuelan authorities did violate human rights in 2017.

Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

Now, the prosecution proceeds to carry out the formal investigation of the “Venezuela I” case. In this phase, the prosecutor must investigate the cases in which, according to his judgment, and what is determined by the facts presented, the crimes of which the government is accused could have been committed.

In this sense, the ICC, in accordance with the complaints presented, will investigate alleged torture, forced disappearances of citizens detained during the demonstrations, and extrajudicial executions.

According to a study presented by the BBC, this new phase in which the case of Venezuela has entered is very delicate, since the ICC will have to determine whether there really "was a State policy and a systematic nature in the crimes. It goes further of Human Rights violations".

That is why the victims and those who hope that justice will be done with a trial against Maduro in an international court, should not claim victory, since according to the statements of the prosecutor Karim Khan, an investigation is only being initiated; He was also emphatic and said that so far there are no individuals named in this case.

This fact seems to give oxygen to the Venezuelan government, however, it should be noted that during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, Venezuela ratified the Rome Statute, which establishes that the ICC will judge those responsible for serious crimes that affect the world.

But there is also hope for the families and victims of the events of 2017, since according to experts, the formal investigation shows that the so-called crimes against humanity were committed in those demonstrations, which have not been properly judged, and must be analyzed in the preliminary questions room of the International Criminal Court.

Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

It must be remembered that in December 2020, the ICC prosecutor's office, headed by Fatou Bensouda, indicated that reasonable grounds had been found to believe that the violation of the human rights of which he is accused had been committed in Venezuela.

What steps do they follow?

According to human rights experts, since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Venezuelan government has 30 days to ask the ICC for a review of its decision, which according to the Rome statute, this would be an "inhibition of the competence of court".

Of course, the Venezuelan authorities must present evidence that he is carrying out investigations and trials on the acts of which he is accused. On the other hand, you must show that the ICC did not meet the requirements to advance to the investigation stage.

If so, it will be the prosecutor Karim Khan himself who determines whether to accept the request. In case it accepts the request, Venezuela could resort to the preliminary questions room.

Prosecutor's Office of Venezuela: It is not possible to advance to the investigation phase

Venezuela: First Latin American Country to Have a Formal Investigation at the ICC

The Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek William Saab, said this Thursday, November 4, that “the requirements of the Rome Statute were not met to justify the passage from the preliminary examination phase to the investigation phase in the Venezuela I case by the alleged commission crimes against humanity in the country, at least since 2017”, and in this way, he asks the ICC to review its decision.

During a press conference held at the Public Ministry, Saab asserted that he delivered to the ICC Prosecutor's Office at least 8 reports with more than 3,000 pages with information on the progress in the investigations that are being carried out in the country. Against people who violated human rights in the anti-government protests of 2017.

He asserted that the investigations will be carried out in Venezuela, by the Venezuelan authorities. However, it concluded the understanding agreement between Venezuela and the ICC.

On the other hand, he said that almost half of the people who died in the demonstrations in 2017 are related to violent acts caused by the same protesters who used conventional and unconventional weapons.

According to the Venezuelan prosecutor, there are at least 700 open cases; and stressed that his office is open to provide all the cooperation required by the ICC.