The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ruled that its prosecutors can resume an investigation into alleged human rights abuses in the South American country of Venezuela.
The court’s decision came after the investigation into torture, extrajudicial killings and other abuses was suspended at Venezuela’s request in April 2022, to allow the country to conduct its own probe.
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But in a statement on Tuesday, the ICC concluded that Venezuela had fallen short in its investigation of government officials.
“The Chamber concluded that, whilst Venezuela is taking some investigative steps, its domestic criminal proceedings do not sufficiently mirror the scope of the Prosecution’s intended investigation,” the court said in a press release.
It noted “periods of unexplained investigative inactivity” in Venezuela’s probe, as well as failures to sufficiently address questions of persecution and crimes of a sexual nature.
The court also included concerns that the Venezuelan investigation focused primarily on “lower level perpetrators”, rather than the senior-level officials ICC prosecutors had hoped to scrutinise.
— Int'l Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) June 27, 2023
Tuesday’s announcement was welcomed by Human Rights Watch, an international human rights monitoring group.
“With today’s decision, ICC judges have greenlighted the only credible pathway to justice for the victims of abuses by [Venezualan President] Nicolas Maduro’s government,” Juanita Goebertus, the group’s Americas director, said in a statement.
“The decision confirms that Venezuela is not acting to bring justice for the crimes likely to be within the ICC’s investigation. Impunity remains the norm.”
This is not the first time the court has heard doubts about Venezuela’s internal probe, however.
In November, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan argued that Venezuela’s efforts “remain either insufficient in scope or have not yet had any concrete impact on potentially relevant proceedings”. He called for the court to resume its investigation.
On Tuesday, the court seemed to accept that argument, finding that legal reforms carried out by Venezuelan authorities have been inadequate to justify further delay.
Earlier this month, Khan met with President Maduro in Caracas to sign an agreement to establish an office for ICC prosecutors inside the country. Khan called it a “significant step”.
The Maduro administration had previously indicated it did not believe the investigation was warranted.
In recent months, however, Maduro has seen his administration enjoy renewed international ties, after several countries refused to recognise his re-election in 2018.
But his administration continues to face criticism within the region for its alleged abuses. At a summit this month of Latin American leaders, Chilean President Gabriel Boric dismissed assertions that questions about Venezuela’s human rights record are part of a “narrative” to smear the country.
“It’s not a narrative construction. It is a reality. It is serious,” Boric said, adding that Chile considers human rights “basic and important”.