International Criminal Court opens investigation into Venezuela, offering hope for victims

Press release
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The Hague, Caracas, 4 November 2021. FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights, together with its member organisation, the Venezuelan Programme for Education-Human Rights Action (PROVEA), welcome the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Karim Khan, to open an investigation into the possible commission of crimes against humanity in Venezuela. The decision represents a historic step for Venezuela and the continent, as it is the first investigation by the ICC in Latin America.

This decision gives hope to victims of serious crimes that have occurred in Venezuela, who have been fighting for justice for many years. The opening of an investigation by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor offers the possibility of an impartial and independent examination of cases of crimes against humanity, which, until now, has been beyond the reach of most of those affected by these crimes.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor initiated a preliminary examination into the situation in Venezuela on 8 February 2018, with the objective of analysing crimes allegedly committed in Venezuela since at least April 2017, in the context of the demonstrations that took place that year. In December 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity, including arbitrary detention, torture, rape and/or other forms of sexual violence and persecution, had been committed in Venezuela by civilian authorities, members of the armed forces and pro-government individuals.

PROVEA and FIDH also welcome the commitment of the Venezuelan State, through a Letter of Understanding with the ICC Prosecutor, to establish mechanisms to enhance cooperation with the ICC and to adopt all necessary measures to ensure the effective administration of justice at a national level.

Our analysis on the ground has shown that the Venezuelan justice system is not carrying out genuine judicial procedures to prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes committed on its territory. The current justice system has been subject to control and interference by the executive branch, with serious violations of due process, threats to victims and witnesses, long delays and structural shortcomings in terms of material and human resources.

To ensure that the Venezuelan justice system functions in accordance with international standards of due process, it is essential to generate a broad consensus. This requires the participation of all sectors that can contribute to these efforts: law schools, lawyers with relevant expertise, social and human rights organisations, and victims’ organisations.

Based on the Letter of Understanding between the Venezuelan State and the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, PROVEA and FIDH call for the resumption of negotiations between political actors, whose agenda includes the re-institutionalisation of the justice system. These negotiations had been taking place in Mexico and their suspension was announced by the Venezuelan government on 16 October. In order to be considered willing and able to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the crimes against humanity currently under investigation by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, it is necessary to address important reforms to different organs of the justice system. This cannot be achieved without national agreements and the plural participation of the country’s social and political actors. Therefore, PROVEA and FIDH will continue to work to monitor the administration of justice and offer their contributions to the restitution of the rule of law in Venezuela.

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