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ICC rules that a probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela may proceed

The decision will reopen the investigation into President Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan security forces during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during a rally to commemorate 20 years since the anti-imperialist declaration of the late President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, Venezuela, February 29, 2024.Leonardo Fernandez Viloria (REUTERS)

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court ruled Friday that an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by Venezuelan security forces under President Nicolás Maduro‘s rule during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017 may proceed.

Appeals panel Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said that the court “rejects the appeals” brought by Venezuela.

The ruling was immediately welcomed by the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. “The ICC decision today is a beacon of hope for the victims of systematic human rights violations by the Maduro government,” it said in a statement. “The decision confirms what these victims already know, with no meaningful justice in Venezuela, the ICC provides an essential path to accountability”.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced in late 2021 that he was opening an investigation after a lengthy preliminary probe and an official referral — a request to investigate — in 2018 by Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.

However, the full-scale investigation was put on hold when Venezuelan authorities said they wanted to take over the case. The ICC is a court of last resort that only takes on cases when national authorities are unwilling or unable to investigate, a system known as complementarity.

Khan pressed ahead with efforts to continue his investigation — the court’s first in Latin America. He said last year that Venezuelan efforts toward delivering justice “remain either insufficient in scope or have not yet had any concrete impact on potentially relevant proceedings.”

ICC judges agreed with Khan and last year authorized him to resume investigations in Venezuela. The judges noted at the time that “Venezuela appears to have taken limited investigative steps and that, in many cases, there appear to be periods of unexplained investigative inactivity.”

Venezuela appealed the ruling, leading to Friday’s decision.

Venezuela’s government said in a statement it is neither “necessary nor appropriate” for the court’s prosecutors to carry out separate or additional investigations and insisted that the alleged crimes against humanity “never occurred.”

“This entire maneuver has been built on the manipulation of a small set of crimes that, as evidenced by all the information provided by Venezuela, have been or are being duly investigated and punished by the authorities of the Venezuelan justice system, in a sovereign manner as established by the constitution,” according to the statement.

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