This week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that its Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, would embark on a ten-day visit to Colombia and Venezuela, his first visit to the region since taking office in June. Khan has been in Colombia since October 25, and will visit Venezuela from October 29 to November 3.
The ICC announcement of the visit, published on October 25, explained that Prosecutor Khan would hold meetings in both countries with high-level authorities, judicial officials, diplomats, and civil society and non-governmental organizations. Civil society and human rights organizations have publicly stressed the need for Khan to meet directly with victims of crimes against humanity and their families during his visit. After the visit was announced, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab published a statement welcoming Khan, and saying that the occasion would provide an opportunity for the ICC to observe the “smooth functioning” of the country’s institutions. Khan’s trip comes amid a pending ICC decision to open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro government in the context of protests since April 2017. While the findings of the ICC’s preliminary investigation into these alleged crimes have not been made public, the ICC’s previous Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, indicated in her June 2021 outgoing statement that while she had made a final determination regarding the reported crimes, the process had been delayed and the decision regarding opening a formal investigation would be up to the discretion of her successor. Previously, in December 2020, the Chief Prosecutor’s office expressed that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity, particularly in the context of detention, have been committed in Venezuela at least since April 2017,” based on the preliminary investigation which began in 2018.
Facing a potential formal ICC investigation, the government has taken steps to convince the international community that judicial proceedings into the alleged crimes are underway. In April and June, Tarek William Saab issued reports to the ICC detailing proceedings into abuses by state officials, an apparent attempt to disprove allegations of systematic impunity in the country. In the third round of negotiations between the government and opposition in Mexico City in late September, the parties reportedly prioritized discussions around judicial reform and the rule of law; however, no formal agreements were reached in this round. In the days leading up to Khan’s visit, the Maduro government has taken steps to improve the outward appearance of the judicial system and human rights situation in the country: on Tuesday, the government released two activists from the NGO Fundaredes who were arbitrarily detained in July—though the third, Javier Tarazona, remains in prison—and government officials have reportedly instructed detainees in the Ramo Verde prison to clean up and appear more presentable for the Prosecutor’s visit. NGO leaders in Venezuela have suggested that Khan’s trip to Venezuela will solidify existing evidence of crimes against humanity and impunity, and prove that superficial efforts to reform the judicial system are thinly-veiled attempts to avoid accountability.
- On October 26, the President of Foro Penal, Alfredo Romero, reported that two of the three Fundaredes workers arbitrarily detained in July, Omar de Dios García and Rafael Tarazona, had been released from prison. Romero clarified that the two men will have to appear in court every eight days, and that Fundaredes Director Javier Tarazona remains in the Helicoide prison center.
- This week, it was reported that Jose Pereira, a member of the Citgo 6—six U.S. citizens and Citgo oil executives who have been detained in Venezuela on corruption charges since 2017—had suffered a mild heart attack while in Helicoide prison in Caracas. The Citgo 6 were recently moved from house arrest back to prison on October 16 after Maduro ally Alex Saab was extradited to the United States.
- On October 26, the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS) published a report documenting a total of 568 protests in Venezuela during the month of September, or an average of 19 daily protests. The number represents a decrease of 52% from the same month in 2020, when OVCS registered 1,193 protests.
- This week, Venezuela’s Attorney General publicly threatened a defamation lawsuit against Vicky Dávila, a journalist with the Colombia-based Semana news magazine, which recently published an article alleging ties between Alex Saab, accused of money laundering, and members of Tarek William Saab’s family.
- A public event by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) on October 28 featured presentations from representatives of various feminist organizations to discuss the risks facing women, children, and adolescents in Venezuela. The panelists noted that, as of September 30, more than 200 femicides have been registered in the country this year.
- On October 28, WOLA released the latest episode of The Venezuela Briefing podcast, in which Program Associate Kristen Martinez-Gugerli spoke with Dejusticia’s Lucía Ramírez and Missão Paz’s Livia Lenci about the response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia and Brazil. The podcast is a follow-up to the #StandFor6Million campaign launched last month to amplify civil society efforts to support fleeing Venezuelans in their host countries.
- Humanitarian organizations and shelters in Colombia are reportedly preparing for an influx of Venezuelan migrants and refugees after the Maduro government announced in early October that it would reopen its side of the border with Colombia.
- Dejusticia recently joined forces with Migración Venezuela to produce an instruction guide for Venezuelan migrants and refugees to access basic rights in Colombia in wayuunaiki, the ancestral language of the Wayúu indigenous group, to improve the breadth and inclusivity of existing programs to support fleeing Venezuelans in the country. The guide was previously published in Spanish in June to commemorate World Refugee Day.
- On Monday, the UN Refugee Agency and the partners that contribute to the Inter-Agency R4V platform produced a new data visualization mechanism based on information from surveys with Venezuelan migrants and refugees in their host countries. The platform documents widespread challenges facing fleeing Venezuelans across the region, including unemployment, homelessness, eviction, and xenophobia.
- On October 27, the Carter Center announced that it would deploy a small mission of international electoral experts to assess aspects of the regional and local elections scheduled for November 21. The delegation will consist of four electoral experts and two Carter Center staff, and will begin to arrive in Caracas in early November. The Carter Center will release public reports with the main findings of the mission and recommendations following the elections.
- On October 21, the U.S. Justice Department announced money laundering charges against two Venezuelans and three Colombian nationals in connection to an alleged bribery scheme involving the Maduro government. Along with the indictments, the DOJ is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of Álvaro Pulido Vargas, the individual behind the alleged conspiracy.
- After agreeing to extradite Hugo Carvajal, a former top advisor to the Chavez government, to the U.S. last week, a Spanish court announced on October 22 that it would suspend the extradition process. Carvajal is wanted in the U.S. for alleged narcotrafficking crimes.
- Ahead of the official start of the campaign period on October 28, this week the National Electoral Council (CNE) requested meetings with public and private media outlets to encourage fair coverage of all political candidates ahead of regional and local elections on November 21.
- On October 27, CNE member Roberto Picón called on public agencies to comply with Venezuela’s campaign law and stop promoting candidates of the PSUV coalition on official social media accounts ahead of the November elections.
- On Wednesday, the Foro Cívico coalition hosted a press conference to discuss recent decisions by international organizations including the EU, UN, and the Carter Center to accompany the November elections, and to encourage voters to participate in the process. View the full press conference here.
- On October 25, Venezuela reopened in-person classes in public schools and universities for over 11 million students, after delaying the resumption of in-person classes due to a peak in COVID-19 cases in recent months.
- This week, Venezuelan Health Minister Carlos Alvarado met with councils of commercial centers and pharmacies to discuss the opening of at least 400 new vaccination locations across the country.