The International Criminal Court resumes the investigation into human rights violations in Venezuela | International

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The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, last week in Caracas.Europa Press/Contact/Iranian Presidency Office (Europa Press/Contact/Iranian Pr)

Human rights defenders have been waiting weeks for the response of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After several ups and downs with the Venezuelan government and prosecutor Karim Khan visiting the country to set up a cooperation office in Caracas, the ICC has ordered progress in the investigation. The decision is a setback for Nicolás Maduro, who has tried with various resources to dissuade the process that is followed in The Hague for allegations of serious human rights violations that could constitute crimes against humanity.

The ICC Preliminary Questions Chamber issued in a statement the conclusions of the analysis of the repeated requests of the Venezuelan Prosecutor's Office to suspend the process on the grounds that the Venezuelan justice would be taking charge. "Venezuela is not investigating (and does not express any intention to investigate) the allegations of fact that underlie the contextual elements of crimes against humanity." In addition, they point out that there are periods of inactivity in the investigation that they consider to be inexplicable and that the investigations have only focused on low-ranking officers and not on the entire chain of command, which is the object of this international instance of justice.

"We have a clear intention to do justice in our country, without a transnational entity doing it for us and we are demonstrating it," said Venezuelan prosecutor Tarek William Saab less than a month ago, during Khan's third visit to the country, in in which the installation of a technical cooperation office was agreed. In response to the new step taken, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has responded by expressing its disagreement. Under the Government's argument, since the beginning of the process in 2018, the Court encourages and contributes to a strategy for political purposes "of regime change" in Venezuela, supposedly promoted by the United States, considered the number enemy for a part of Chavismo and with whom, however, he has resumed contact in the last year.

The judges of the Chamber, Péter Kovács, Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and María del Socorro Flores Liera, examined the observations of the Venezuelan authorities, as well as 1,875 forms collected by the Section for Reparation and Participation of Victims that gather the testimonies of more than 8,000 victims of torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed since 2014 in the framework of anti-government demonstrations and as part of a policy of persecution for political reasons.

At the end of 2021, the ICC announced the completion of the preliminary examination, a preliminary phase to determine the opening of an investigation. The Maduro government, through various legal maneuvers, tried to stop the process but only managed to put it on hold for a few months. Chavismo's strategies seem to have hit a ceiling, although they have announced that they will appeal this decision again, with little chance that it will be considered this time, according to some analysts.

Maduro is facing this scrutiny again, after having resumed diplomatic relations with much of the world and in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections for which the Chavista leader is trying to improve his image. Although this path at the ICC was initiated by former presidents of various countries in the region critical of Chavismo, such as the Colombian Iván Duque, the Argentine Mauricio Macri, the Chilean Sebastián Piñera or the Paraguayan Mario Abdo Benítez, NGOs have been fundamental in documenting The file.

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The Latin American political spectrum has turned once again and the accusations against the human rights violations committed by the Government have gone into the background, at least in diplomatic relations, while human rights defenders in Venezuela have pushed the search for justice in international instances. That is why the Maduro-affiliated Parliament has lined up against these organizations and a few months ago approved in the first discussion a law that restricts their operation and access to international financing.

NGOs such as Defiende Venezuela and Acceso a la Justicia have expressed that the Chamber's decision is a victory for the victims. Venezuela ratified the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, in the year 2000. This is the first time that an investigation has been launched against a government in office and also the first time that an investigation has been opened in a Latin American country. In this instance. In this case, it has also been unprecedented for States parties -Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay and Canada- to invoke the Rome Statute against another member, as happened in 2018 with the request that started this file. With this Tuesday's decision, a further step is taken on the long road to verify the occurrence of crimes against humanity and the possible sanction of high government figures as responsible.

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