The International Criminal Court in The Hague notified Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela that it has three months to prove that it is investigating crimes against humanity. The international court’s notification opens the door to the expected trial against the dictator.
For about a decade, the ICC has received evidence of how the Venezuelan dictatorship has committed crimes against humanity and how it continues to implement Nazi-era torture against political prisoners and dissidents, but it is only now that the real possibility of justice is beginning to emerge.
The ICC opened a preliminary investigation in 2018, not for all the crimes committed by the dictatorship, but for the actions taken by security forces in the 2017 protests that left hundreds of dead people. It was in December 2021 when it resolved to move forward with its investigation.
This is a long-standing process that could last for decades, as the ICC prosecutor of that time, Fatou Bensouda, took 1,030 days to announce what the world already knew: that there is evidence of crimes against humanity in Venezuela.
It seems that there is still a long way to go. The text signed by prosecutor Karim Khan states that “in a spirit of cooperation, dialogue, and fairness, the prosecutor further agreed to grant Venezuela an extension of three months, namely until April 16, 2022″, given that the initial deadline expired last Sunday.
The text also indicates that Khan has the intention to travel to the South American country to “engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Government of Venezuela on admissibility issues with a view to assessing, inter alia, the scope and necessity of possible procedures”.
In Venezuela, justice is not impartial, as the regime has the courts in its favor; however, Chavismo claims that it has decided to indict 150 police and military personnel for human rights violations since 2017. The opposition, for its part, considers that these actions were taken only to avoid the international judicial process.
What does the International Criminal Court’s recent notification to Maduro mean?
Mariano De Alba, a specialist in international law and diplomacy, explained that “it is not correct to say that the Court is granting a period of three months to respond for the crimes”.
“The date of notification is important because it is from then on that the authorities of the state involved (Venezuela) have one month to question the initiation of the investigation. If they do so, the Prosecutor’s Office could decide to defer investigation proceedings for up to 6 months,” explained De Alba.
“The Prosecutor’s Office has decided to wait until April 16, 2022, because a meeting with Maduro’s Government could not be arranged,” added the specialist.
“If Venezuela requests the deferral, the Prosecutor has two options: (i) to accept the request, deferring for 6 months the investigation of relevant people; or (ii) not to accept it, having to request the Court to authorize the continuation of the investigation,” warned De Alba.
Venezuelan lawyer Carlos Ramírez López, who is an expert in international criminal litigation, stated in an interview for El American that “the time period given by the Prosecutor is part of the right to defense necessary in the judicial process, but in this case, it is basically about the principle of collaboration among states that are part of the Rome Statute, in which they are obliged to prosecute the crimes that take place in their territories.”
Ramirez Lopez informed that in this stage the ICC seeks to determine whether there is an impartial and independent justice system in Venezuela to prosecute the facts.
“In this case, the Maduro regime must expose to the prosecutor the actions carried out to fulfill the requirement in each of the cases that are the object of the denunciations,” Ramírez explained.
The truth of the matter is that although there is evidence of more crimes against humanity committed by the regime of Nicolás Maduro, what is being evaluated in this judicial process are the crimes committed in 2017; the ones which were executed before are not being assessed in this proceeding.
“The investigation of prosecutor Khan is composed of two phases: one is the continuation of the preliminary examination initiated by the then prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for various crimes that took place in 2017, which was continued by the new prosecutor, Karim Khan, who concluded it and then went to the phase of ordinary criminal investigation in which those were covered. In addition to the crimes committed in 2017, others such as the murder of Councilman Fernando Albán, the one of Captain Acosta Arévalo, etc. are being investigated. On the other hand, in this phase the investigation must conclude in one of the two positions of the prosecutor: he closes the case, or formally accuses whoever he considers the perpetrators of the crimes object of the investigation”, the expert explained.
In relation to the time being in which the investigation against the Maduro regime could be completed, Ramírez López pointed out that the Rome Statute does not establish time limits for such proceedings, so “the time span is incalculable”.
Is there a real chance for justice?
Ramírez López believes that there are opportunities for justice to finally be served against the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
“In my personal opinion there are opportunities. I believe in the sincerity of prosecutor Karim Khan, although it is not unqualified credulity. As a trial lawyer that I have been for so many years I know that you always have to be vigilant and not sleeping on your confidence. The devil is always lurking around the courts,” he said.
The trial lawyer explained that after this three-month period, it is up to the ICC to define whether justice in Venezuela is working or not.
“If it is concluded that the crimes have been proven and that they have not been truly prosecuted, then the prosecutor will formalize the indictment of the accused and the trial will be opened with all its stages until a final and firm sentence is reached,” he explained.
“I think it is very necessary that the people who fight for freedom in Venezuela, mainly the legitimate National Assembly and the interim president Juan Guaidó, show themselves in these proceedings, that they become active before international organizations and specifically before this prosecutor in particular. They have to do a real job, a public and diplomatic offensive in favor of the prosecution. I do not understand why they have not done that,” Ramírez López criticized the inaction of the Venezuelan opposition.
Since the ICC began operating in 2002, it has generated expenditures in excess of one and a half billion dollars. In this period of time, it has only prosecuted four African criminals and none from Latin America.
For a case to be investigated and prosecuted it has to go through the approval of the Court’s prosecutor and then through a Preliminary Chamber; a bureaucratic process that can take years.