Venezuela: International Criminal Court opens initial investigation

Image copyright AFP Image caption International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Venezuela’s government and opposition are being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, the ICC said.

The ICC said the alleged crimes “possess the character and gravity of the crime of genocide”.

They include “crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and sexual slavery” as well as “disappearances”.

Venezuela’s leaders deny orchestrating violence against protesters, accusing the opposition of fomenting unrest.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last month that authorities in the country were responsible for “hundreds” of killings, injuries and kidnappings.

She referred to “a kind of organised violence” – including “siege, arson, looting, death squads” – that had led to deaths, arrests and disappearances, as well as “destruction of property and pillaging, using firearms and other weapons”.

The Office of the Prosecutor (OP) of the ICC said the investigation was due to a request from the prosecutors of the Netherlands and Colombia.

How did the investigation start?

ICC rules allow a prosecutor to consider “the existence of reasonable grounds” to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and that those responsible are being prosecuted at the national level.

The prosecutor must then investigate the accusations and provide the prosecutor general of one of the ICC’s 54 member states with “reasonable grounds” to believe there are grounds to suggest a state of war has occurred in that state.

Image copyright AFP Image caption A copy of a 2009 report

If both countries agree there are sufficient grounds for an investigation, the ICC’s president issues a warrant or summons, to be served on the accused, to allow prosecutors to prepare their case.

The ICC’s vice-president is expected to open an initial investigation on behalf of Colombia and if the case is robust enough, the request could be referred to the court’s regular judges.

Why was this only opened now?

A prosecutor’s office spokesman said the decision was taken “after careful consideration of the material presented”.

“The Office for the Prosecutor respects international law and reaffirms its role of ensuring respect and protection of human rights,” he added.

According to the ICC’s website, prior to making the opening of the initial investigation, the prosecutor must obtain “information” from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and “access to sources” and third party investigations.

Why do we need to be concerned about this?

No one has been convicted of a crime against humanity in any country.

The prosecutors’ office said it would “continue its investigations throughout the country… in order to establish the facts and circumstances of crimes within its jurisdiction and bring those responsible to justice”.

Mr Bachelet’s office has said that its initial investigation could take up to five years.

Ms Bachelet also called on “all parties to exercise restraint, respect human rights and ensure a peaceful transition to democracy”.

The high stakes: Venezuela Crisis

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