International agency reopens probe into Venezuela security forces
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — International prosecutors should resume investigating alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela by security forces under President Nicolás Maduro because the country’s own probe has fallen short, the International Criminal Court ruled Tuesday.
The court had suspended an investigation into alleged wrongdoing including use of excessive force and torture — its first in Latin America — after Venezuela asked to take over the case in April last year.
Seven months later, Prosecutor Karim Khan sought to reopen his investigation, saying that Venezuelan efforts toward delivering justice “remain either insufficient in scope or have not yet had any concrete impact on potentially relevant proceedings.”
Judges agreed, and the court said in a statement Tuesday that Venezuela’s actions do “not sufficiently mirror the scope” of the intended investigation, including by failing to focus on more than just low-level perpetrators.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the ruling.
“With today’s decision, ICC judges have greenlighted the only credible pathway to justice for the victims of abuses by Nicolás Maduro’s government,” Juanita Goebertus, the group’s Americas Director, said. “The decision confirms that Venezuela is not acting to bring justice for the crimes likely to be within the ICC’s investigation. Impunity remains the norm."
The decision comes less than three weeks after Khan visited Venezuela and signed a memorandum of understanding with Maduro to establish an office for ICC prosecutors in the country.
The case was brought to the court in 2018 by member states Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru, who sought an investigation into alleged crimes in Venezuela since early 2014, the year after Maduro took office.
Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, conducted a preliminary probe and in 2020 said she found a reasonable basis to conclude that crimes against humanity had been committed in Venezuela, since at least April 2017. Bensouda’s probe focused mainly on allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture by security forces during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017.
The ICC is a court of last resort that investigates alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave offenses when nations are unable, or unwilling, to do so.
Judges said that Venezuelan investigations appeared to be focused on low-level perpetrators. The ICC seeks to prosecute senior commanders deemed responsible for crimes.
The judges also noted that “Venezuela appears to have taken limited investigative steps and that, in many cases, there appear to be periods of unexplained investigative inactivity,” the court said in its statement.
They also said that the domestic investigations in Venezuela did not appear to sufficiently cover parts of the international probe — including allegations of persecution and sexual crimes.