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.

Human Rights