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Washington, D.C.—On November 3, upon concluding a three-day visit to Venezuela, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan announced that the body is opening a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed by civilian authorities, members of the armed forces and pro-government individuals in the context of protests and repression that have occurred since 2017. The announcement was accompanied by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maduro government agreeing to cooperate to facilitate the ICC investigation in accordance with international standards and the Rome Statute of the ICC, and to continue pursuing justice for these crimes at the national level within Venezuela’s judicial system. The opening of a formal investigation into crimes committed by government officials and pro-government individuals, including arbitrary imprisonment, sexual violence, torture, and persecution on political grounds, is an important step in the pursuit of justice for victims and their families. It is the first country in the Americas to be subject to a formal ICC investigation, and marks a milestone in the effort to combat impunity for grave human rights violations in Venezuela and across the hemisphere.
The decision to open a formal investigation demonstrates that the ICC Chief Prosecutor’s Office has found that crimes against humanity have occurred in Venezuela since at least April 2017, and that the Venezuelan government is unable or unwilling to prosecute these crimes. In September, the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela concluded that the country’s judicial institutions have been complicit in efforts to repress perceived political dissidents, as well as to routinely turn a blind eye to human rights violations, failing in its mandate to guarantee due process. In this context, it is essential that the Venezuelan government cooperate with the ICC investigation and ensure that the Chief Prosecutor’s Office is able to carry out its mandate with the necessary access and independence.
Additionally, as established in the Memorandum of Understanding, it is imperative that the Venezuelan government advance judicial proceedings into these crimes at the national level, complying with its international human rights obligations under the Rome Statute. This will require not only thorough investigations and prosecution at every level of the chain of command, but also an overhaul of Venezuela’s judicial system, which has demonstrated systemic corruption and a lack of impartiality. There is an urgent need for oversight and reforms of the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, and Ombudsman Office, as well as of the police and other security forces.
As an organization committed to advancing human rights in the Americas, The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) supports the Office of the Prosecutor’s decision to open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro government and pro-government individuals, and believes that this decision sets an important precedent for accountability and justice in Venezuela and the hemisphere. It is of utmost importance that these atrocities are not met with impunity, and that Venezuelan authorities do not engage in reprisals against victims and witnesses that come forward.
The Office of the Prosecutor’s announcement comes after years of perseverance by victims and human rights defenders, who have taken great risks in the face of violent repression. WOLA honors their sacrifices, and believes that no solution to Venezuela’s crisis is possible without respecting victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, judicial reform, and guarantees of non-repetition.