In his last hours in Caracas, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan decided to open an investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela. The announcement was made at Miraflores Palace, during the signing of a memorandum of understanding with President Nicolás Maduro, in which he pledged to cooperate with the process. “The prosecutor decided to move to the next stage, we don’t share the decision, but we respect it,” the Chavez leader said in a televised ceremony. Venezuela is the first country in Latin America to be investigated by the ICC.
The memo explains that the preliminary examination of the case opened in 2018 was completed and warns that at this stage “no suspects or targets” were identified. It also explains that the investigation that will begin now is intended to “determine the truth and whether or not there are grounds for bringing charges against someone.”
The announcement raises expectations for hundreds of victims of arbitrary detention, as well as for relatives of victims of extrajudicial executions and political prisoners who denounced torture in Venezuelan military and intelligence services prisons. Human rights defenders called the decision a huge step forward in the quest for justice. The Maduro government had just carried out a series of judicial reforms and began releasing some prisoners with the aim of delaying this stage, which further affects its image internationally.
In the memorandum, the International Criminal Prosecutor affirms that it will recognize the efforts that the State makes to improve the judicial system. In December, former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded that there was sufficient evidence that crimes had been committed and that it was up to her jurisdiction to investigate them. The move to the investigation phase was expected from the month of June, when the British prosecutor took over his post. Khan delayed his decision until this visit at the invitation of the Venezuelan Government.
On his first trip to the region, the prosecutor visited Colombia, where he ended the process that the country had opened 17 years ago. Last week, in an interview with EL PAÍS, he said that he was coming to Venezuela to listen and establish relations. “Venezuela should be proud to have invited the ICC prosecutor. I don’t help without an invitation. I will not visit them as a clandestine agent”.
This scenario was one of the most feared by the Government, which is seeking to break the diplomatic encirclement that the international community has lifted by rejecting the authoritarian drift that Venezuela has been going through for years and which has caused a humanitarian crisis within the country and another migratory one in the region. Since May 2019, when the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, visited the country, a series of reports has been produced in which the magnitude of the violations and the Venezuelan political, economic and social disaster has been found. The last of them, the second preview of the Independent Mission of the United Nations, indicated that the judiciary is an arm of the repression against dissent in the country.
With the extradition to the United States of Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who the government turned into an important financial operator in the surroundings of Maduro, Chavismo is stuck in a new alley. After this coup of justice, he decided to withdraw from the negotiations he had started with the opposition in Mexico as a protest measure. In a few weeks, it will dispute local and regional elections in which the opposition will participate and which will have international observers after 15 years of veto, but in an environment of great social demobilization. Now, in addition, he must face the setback of the investigation in The Hague.
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