Note: this piece has been updated to reflect the timeline of the referral by a group of States Parties to the Office of the Prosecutor.
All eyes are on the Hague as the International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to make an announcement regarding the preliminary examination into reported crimes against humanity committed by the Venezuelan government. The highly anticipated announcement comes over two years after the preliminary examination was launched in 2018, and will determine whether ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensada will open a formal investigation into the Maduro government.
As Marino Alvarado of human rights group PROVEA notes in El Universal, this could make Nicolas Maduro the first head of state in the Americas to be investigated by the ICC for crimes against humanity. The crimes being investigated include excessive force against protesters, arbitrary detentions, and political persecution committed by the Venezuelan security forces since April 2017.
Bensouda began the preliminary examination in February 2018. Later, in September, the prosecutor’s office received a state referral from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru. In December 2020, the prosecutor’s office announced that it had found “a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity, particularly in the context of detention,” had occurred since at least April 2017. The office also indicated that it would seek to bring the preliminary examination phase to an end “in the first half of 2021.” A possible deadline is June 15, when Bensouda will finish her term and be replaced by British barrister Karim Khan.
If an announcement occurs in the coming days, it should clarify the findings of this preliminary examination, and whether the case will proceed to a formal investigation. As rights group Acceso a la Justicia explains, much will hinge on whether the ICC finds that relevant and trustworthy judicial proceedings into the alleged crimes are being carried out in Venezuela. The Maduro government, for its part, is preparing to make the case that this is occurring. On April 30, Maduro’s Prosecutor General Tareck William Saab issued a report to the ICC detailing investigations and proceedings into abuses by state officials. This included a recognition by Saab that intelligence and security forces were behind three high-profile cases: the 2019 torture and killing of Navy Captain Rafael Acosta, the 2018 extrajudicial execution in state custody of opposition politician Fernando Alban, and the 2017 killing of student activist Juan Pablo Pernalete at the hands of National Guard. Saab claimed that in all three instances, investigations or trials had begun against the accused.
These investigations alone are unlikely to outweigh evidence of generalized impunity for human rights violations and crimes against humanity documented by the UN Fact-Finding Mission, including torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial executions committed by security forces and counterintelligence.
- On June 1 Maduro stated that a delegation of the Norwegian government had arrived in Venezuela to facilitate dialogue between the government and the Guaidó-led opposition. The Norwegian delegation reportedly met on Monday with a group of PSUV representatives led by National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez. Shortly thereafter, Guaidó claimed that Mexico is under consideration to be the site for negotiations with the Maduro government.
- The opposition’s Unitary Platform on May 25 published a statement of support for Guaidó’s proposal in favor of a comprehensive and inclusive negotiation process with the Maduro government to bring the country closer to free and fair elections. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who recently broke from Guaidó in favor of partial, sectoral agreements, reposted the message and indicated his support for comprehensive negotiations.
- On June 1, the National Electoral Council (CNE) launched the process of voter registration, which will last for two weeks until June 15, ahead of joint regional and municipal elections scheduled for November 21. CNE President Pedro Calzadilla announced that the national voter registration process would be overseen by at least 87 organizations to ensure transparency in the process.
- On May 27, the government of Argentina under Alberto Fernández revoked its support for the preliminary examination before the ICC. Argentina’s shift in policy will not impact the preliminary examination. Other parties to the state referral have continued to encourage the legal process, and on May 28 Canada reiterated its support for the process.
- The Chinese government recently announced a new tax law that would double the cost of importing heavy crude oil. The tax is set to go into effect on June 12, and will have significant consequences for Venezuela, which exports much of its crude oil to China indirectly through Malaysian refineries to avoid U.S. sanctions.
- In a joint press conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado on June 1, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated that the U.S. may be inclined to lift sanctions on Venezuelan individuals and/or government entities that take “meaningful actions to restore democratic order.” The comments come a few days after NSC Advisor Juan Gonzalez suggested that the U.S. government would maintain pressure on the Maduro government until negotiations produce “concrete and irreversible” steps towards the democratization of the country.
- The U.S. government is reportedly monitoring the location of two Iranian Navy ships believed to be destined for Venezuela, sparking speculation that the vessels may be transporting military equipment or fuel supplies in defiance of U.S. sanctions on both countries.
- On June 1, the Biden administration renewed a General License giving permission for Chevron to continue operating in Venezuela until at leastDecember 1. The fact that the license was renewed unchanged, and that no action has been taken to lift the ban on diesel swaps, suggest the U.S. government is reticent to be perceived as easing up on Maduro.
- A June 2 update from Foro Penal claims that there are 299 political prisoners in Venezuela today, and a total of 9,386 individuals who continue to be subject to the penal process for arbitrary and political reasons. In response to Guaidó’s proposal that political prisoners be released as a condition of a “National Salvation Agreement,” Foro Penal President Alfredo Romero stated that the NGO does not support efforts to use political prisoners as bargaining chips in a negotiation.
- A recent report from the Center of Human Rights (CDH) at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello exposes human rights violations committed in the Orinoco Mining Arc, where armed groups control between 30 and 50 percent of the territory. The report documents the particular risks facing women and girls in the region, and conditions that it regards as “modern slavery.”
- An op-ed in the Washington Post highlights a culture of predatory behavior and sexual violence within Venezuela’s youth orchestra program El Sistema, adding to a wave of allegations of sexual abuse and a rise in the Me Too movement since late April.
- On May 28, representatives of the 13 countries that make up the Quito Process met in Peru and published a statement renewing their commitment to address the needs of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in their respective territories, with a special focus on the sanitary and mental health needs of migrants in the context of COVID-19.
- On May 19, a group of UN human rights experts called on the Chilean government to immediately cease mass deportations of immigrants, while international law requires that deportations be considered on a case-by-case basis. The demand came in response to the collective deportation of 55 Venezuelan migrants in late April, provoking outcry from human rights activists.
- On June 2, just one day after the Colombian Foreign Ministry announced that it would keep its border with Venezuela closed through September 1, the Colombian government reportedly starting the gradual reopening of the border, 14 months after it was initially closed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Center for Human Rights at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) published a report documenting that at least 430 unaccompanied minors fled Venezuela between October 2020 and February 2021. The report, titled Pequeños en Movimiento, also finds that at least 55% of Venezuelan migrant children are undocumented.
- While the Maduro government announced a “second stage” of its vaccination process on May 29, Venezuela has only vaccinated less than one percent of its population. As demand increases, a black market for vaccines is reportedly emerging, with citizens paying up to $600 USD for the shot. On May 24, Venezuela’s National Academy of Medicine published a statement denouncing the lack of transparency in vaccination, and civil society organizations and human rights groups continue to mobilize in support of a national vaccination plan organized in line with humanitarian principles. This includes the Foro Civico coalition, which has organized small-scale protests and filed an official request for information about an eventual plan with the National Ombudsman’s office.
- On June 3, after the Biden administration announced that the U.S. would donate 25 million excess doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable countries through the COVAX mechanism, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Jimmy Story clarified that Venezuela would not receive donated vaccines from the U.S. in this first round of donations, citing the need for a more transparent vaccine distribution system.