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Building the Foundation: Accurately Understanding the Landscape of Injustice in Venezuela as the Investigation Resumes

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On June 27, following a deferral request filed by the Venezuelan government under Article 18(2) of the Rome Statute that resulted in over a year-long suspension, Pre-Trial Chamber I (“The Chamber”) of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) granted authorization for the Office of the Prosecutor to resume its investigation into the situation in Venezuela.

This decision was made based on the prosecutor’s findings, which indicated a reasonable basis to believe that, since at least April 2017, various parties including civilian authorities, armed forces members, and individuals aligned with the government, have been involved in the commission of crimes against humanity. These crimes include acts such as imprisonment or severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape and/or other forms of sexual violence, as well as persecution on political grounds.

Monday’s decision follows a motion filed by Prosecutor Khan which contended that the internal proceedings the Maduro regime was carrying out did not satisfy the genuineness criteria and largely failed to reflect the gravity of the conduct in question. Furthermore, the Prosecutor argued that the domestic authorities have not sought to ascertain the possible systematic occurrence of crimes against humanity nor the existence of patterns and policies linking the criminal acts, but rather, that the Government of Venezuela has expressly rejected the existence of any such policy and of a systematic attack against any civilian population, and has characterized the instances of criminality investigated as isolated incidents constituting ordinary crimes.

Ultimately, the Prosecution found that conclusions in this regard did not appear to have resulted from actual investigations that led Venezuelan judicial authorities to determine that no policy or attack existed. Instead, on the basis of the material submitted, the filing concludes that there is no evidence that this aspect of the investigation has been actually and genuinely pursued at all.

This view was upheld by the Chamber’s decision which found that, from the material submitted by Venezuela, it appeared that the government concluded a priori that there were no crimes committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population. Conclusions which, according to the judges, were reached without any indication of an investigation having taken place.

Furthermore, the Chamber noticed a pattern by which the Venezuelan authorities supposedly investigated activities carried out by lower ranking officials and other direct perpetrators without enquiries into the activities of the higher ranking officials in the chain of command, a practice similar to the one analyzed by the Chamber in the situation in Burundi.

As for the perspectives of the victims in this situation, the ICC issued an invitation to provide their views and concerns regarding the resumption of the investigation, which were condensed in the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) report. It included observations from approximately 8,900 individuals, two institutions or organizations and approximately 630 families. In the report, they expressed that an urgent investigation by an impartial international court is needed because the domestic proceedings are not genuine, that judicial reform measures adopted in Venezuela are limited and fail to address the lack of genuine proceedings, and that the ICC must bring perpetrators to justice since in Venezuela those most responsible for the commission of crimes are being shielded from criminal responsibility.

On this matter, the Chamber rejected Venezuela’s request for leave to respond to the VPRS report on the grounds that the government was broadly trying to respond to each of these victims’ claims, an action that was not appropriate at that time of the proceedings. On this particular aspect, in its most recent decision granting authorization to resume the investigation, the Chamber noted with perspicacity how the government failed to identify any suspects for cases where a criminal complaint refers to the alleged perpetrators by name, but instead, sharply focused on identifying, locating, and accessing information on the victims. The Chamber thus concluded that Venezuela is not investigating, and does not express any intention to investigate, the factual allegations underlying the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.

The decision to probe the allegations of serious human rights violations through a formal investigation by the ICC, as well as the establishment of an independent fact finding mission by the United Nations, reflects the world’s commitment to holding perpetrators accountable, and provides a glimmer of hope for the countless victims who have suffered under the Maduro administration. As Venezuela navigates this unprecedented course, the international community confronts both challenges and opportunities, all of which have the potential to shape the country and the region’s future and redefine the concept of justice on a global scale.

As the ICC Office of the Prosecutor and the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (“FFM”), supported by the courageous work of local organizations, delve into the investigation of heinous crimes against humanity committed by the Maduro regime, the magnitude of the atrocities becomes increasingly apparent.

In parallel with the ICC investigation, the FFM has also found reasonable grounds to believe that the violations committed in Venezuela were not isolated incidents, but rather formed part of a larger pattern of deliberate and organized attacks targeting the civilian population. These acts were carried out as part of a governmental policy aimed at suppressing opposition to the ruling regime. The FFM went on to indicate that the structures within Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence (DGCIM) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) remain the same and the patterns of criminal conduct within these agencies still persist.

The FFM has additionally noted that the level of responsibility often increases as the analysis draws further away from the person who executes the human rights abuses to reach the higher ranks of command. The evidence so far collected by the FFM shows that the acts of violence documented were not conducted by random and unconnected individuals acting alone within SEBIN and DGCIM, but rather these violations, which amount to crimes against humanity, were part of a deliberate policy by the Government to silence, discourage and quash the opposition. The FFM flags President Nicolas Maduro, supported by other high-level authorities, as the main architects in the design, implementation, and maintenance of a machinery with the purpose of suppressing dissent.

In summary, as the multiple, verifiable, and documented sources of evidence show, Venezuela’s alarming state is not a manufactured story. Statements that downplay or dismiss the grave human rights violations reported in the country, whether they come from inside or outside the country, undermine the efforts to address the suffering of the Venezuelan people and find a sustainable resolution to the crisis. It is essential to maintain a commitment to upholding human rights, fostering democracy, and supporting the pursuit of justice. Leaders in the region and at a global level should approach the situation in Venezuela with the seriousness and sensitivity it deserves, and engage in constructive dialogue to address the underlying issues preventing Venezuelans from achieving a peaceful and democratic future. We must remember that the dire human rights crisis in Venezuela is not part of a constructed narrative but a devastating reality that must be brought before justice.