ICC Announces Opening of a National Office in Caracas
On March 31, upon concluding a three-day trip to Caracas, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced that the ICC would open an office in Venezuela as it advances the investigation it began last year into human rights violations committed by Venezuelan authorities and government supporters since 2017. The ICC said it seeks to “deepen cooperation” with the Venezuelan government through the opening of the national office to facilitate the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in November, and to support efforts to investigate crimes at the national level. In response, a group of 18 Venezuelan and international NGOs, including WOLA, published a statement on April 12 expressing concerns and priorities for the Chief Prosecutor to consider. These include the need to establish spaces for dialogue with civil society and victims, the need for clarity about the future of the ICC investigation, the need for a gender-based approach in the ICC investigation, and concerns about the capacity for Venezuela’s national justice system to carry out independent investigations. On April 20, the ICC Prosecutor’s office published an update on the investigation confirming that Khan will apply to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to resume investigations, overriding a deferral request issued by the Maduro government. Khan’s office also said it will seek to engage with victims and their legal representatives.
Civil Society Representatives Meet with Maduro in Miraflores
On April 5, a group of civil society activists, all members of the Foro Cívico coalition but appearing in a personal capacity, met with de facto president Nicolás Maduro at the presidential palace in Caracas to present a series of demands for meaningful democratic and judicial reforms. The group published the letter that they presented to Maduro on social media, which includes a list of demands regarding the need to establish independence in Venezuela’s justice system and the Supreme Court (TSJ) and the urgency of returning to negotiations in Mexico City. The civil society group, which included representatives from independent NGOs and coalitions including Dale Letra, Acción Solidaria, the National Academy of Medicine, the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, and others, met for a second time with Maduro on April 7. A statement by Foro Cívico published after the meeting reiterated many of the demands included in the previous letter, and emphasized the importance of addressing urgent needs in the health system and enacting necessary labor reforms. Following backlash to the meeting from the opposition and others critical of the notion of negotiating with Maduro, participants in the meeting including Feliciano Reyna of Acción Solidaria and Mariela Ramírez of Dale Letra, have publicly emphasized the importance of taking the opportunity to establish spaces for dialogue and engage with those in power to advance institutional reform—while not abandoning their commitment to human rights.
Venezuelans Cross through Darién Gap in Record Numbers
According to the Panamanian government, Venezuelans make up an increasing proportion of migrants and refugees passing through the Darién Gap along the Colombia-Panama border. The area is known as one of the world’s most dangerous refugee and migrant routes due to its rough terrain and the presence of criminal groups in the region, which poses an extraordinary risk of violence, exploitation, and human trafficking, as well as sexual violence. In just the first three months of 2022, 4,257 Venezuelan nationals passed through the Darién Gap, nearly doubling the total number of Venezuelans crossing through the region in all of 2021. In 2022 so far, Panamanian officials say Venezuelans make up 31.7 percent of total Darién Gap crossings, compared to 2021, when Venezuelan nationals only made up 2 percent of all Darién Gap crossings. Reports suggest that a visa requirement for Venezuelans recently imposed in Mexico has contributed to the higher number of Venezuelan nationals traveling northward by foot through irregular routes such as the Darién Gap.
- Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the opening of 23 investigations involving Juan Guaidó and others in the Interim Government for “corruption, criminal links, and overtaking of public office” (EFE, April 7). In response to this and other accusations by Comptroller General Elvis Amoroso, the opposition issued a letter rejecting the claims (EFE, April 7).
- A Wilson Center report documents the impact of expanding mining operations on human rights and the environment in Venezuela (March 17).
- Human Rights Watch reports that clashes between armed groups along the Colombia-Venezuela border in early 2022 has caused a dramatic increase in violence including civilian killings and forced recruitment, forcing thousands to flee (March 28).
- The Washington Post reports that four members of the indigenous Yanomami tribe were killed by Venezuelan soldiers following a dispute over access to WiFi (March 31).
- AP News reports on the challenges associated with the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s inaction on legalizing same-sex marriage (March 23).
- A recent report by the Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia (CDJ) documents a total of 98 attacks against human rights defenders in the first trimester of 2022.
- Venezuelan Foreign Minister Felix Plasencia invited U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to coordinate to construct a “route of dialogue and understanding” between the two countries (El Nacional, April 12).
- Miami Herald reports that divisions within the Biden administration have deepened over how to advance U.S. policy towards Venezuela following the visit of U.S. officials to Caracas in March (April 12).
- The Department of State’s Annual 2021 Human Rights Report on Venezuela denounces political persecution, insufficient electoral conditions, and human rights violations in Venezuela (April 12).
- In an op-ed in El País, WOLA Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey and Senior Fellow David Smilde argue that the U.S. should take advantage of recent engagement in Venezuela to break with the policy of “maximum pressure” (March 19). In another analysis published in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft, Ramsey and Smilde reiterate this argument and emphasize the need for coordination among the international community with respect to Venezuela’s negotiations (March 31).
- U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued a letter urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to extend the designation of TPS for Venezuela, which expires in September 2022, for an additional 18 months (April 1).
- The NGO Operación Libertad Internacional documents that 60 percent of the women who are sexually exploited in the Colombian border cities of La Parada and Cúcuta are of Venezuelan nationality (TalCual Digital, April 12).
- Miami Herald reports on the challenges for Venezuelan migrants in finding housing in South Florida upon arriving to the U.S. (April 8).
- The Wall Street Journal reports on increasing numbers of Venezuelan migrants and refugees fleeing to the U.S. (April 15).
- 25 members of civil society and the private sector urge President Biden to advance negotiations in Venezuela (Efecto Cocuyo, April 14). View the full letter here.
- Crónica Uno reports that internal divisions within Chavismo are a leading factor in the delayed designation of new justices to Venezuela’s Supreme Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia , TSJ) (April 9).
- The Unitary Platform is installing a commission to advance a primary process to select an opposition candidate for the 2024 presidential elections (Voz de América, March 29). Some opposition parties outside the Unitary Platform have voiced criticism of this measure, and are appealing to the National Electoral Council to help them organize their own presidential primaries (Efecto Cocuyo, April 7).
- Miami Herald reports an alarming increase in the number of Venezuelan citizens committing suicide amid the country’s humanitarian crisis (March 18).
- Reuters reports on increasing power cuts in the Venezuelan border state of Tachira (April 18).
- An article in The New Yorker exposes the challenges facing elderly professors and staff of Venezuela’s universities amid the humanitarian crisis (April 12).