Nov 3, 2021 - World

ICC to investigate alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela

 Venezuelan presidentNicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Manaure Quintero/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The International Criminal Court is investigating whether crimes against humanity were committed by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's security forces during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017.

Driving the news: Maduro signed a memorandum with ICC prosecutor Karim Khan on Wednesday, but said he disagrees with the decision to open a formal probe. The Venezuelan leader said the memo will guarantee "cooperation, positive complementarity, mutual support, constructive dialogue to seek truth and justice between the Venezuelan government and the ICC."

Why it matters: The decision to formally investigate allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings "gives hope of justice to the hundreds of victims of brutal repression by the Maduro regime," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch in a statement.

  • It's the first such investigation in Latin American history, Vivanco noted.

The big picture: Khan said at the memo signing ceremony in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, that he decided to move from a preliminary investigation to a formal inquiry in order to "seek the truth."

  • Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda concluded in the earlier probe that there was a "reasonable basis" to believe Venezuela's government had committed crimes against humanity during the protest clampdown.
  • Khan warned he would "take a dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office."

What they're saying: Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate interim leader, said the probe "asserts the right to obtain justice that has been denied in Venezuela for the victims" of the Maduro regime.

  • Opposition leader Leopoldo López called the investigation a "victory for thousands of victims and Venezuelan families," adding that "Maduro and his dictatorship will have to answer to the ICC for every political prisoner who has died in their state prisons; for everyone who has been persecuted, unjustly imprisoned, tortured and murdered."

What to watch: Any criminal charges presented as part of the ICC probe could still be years away, AP notes.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to add comment from Venezuelan opposition leaders.

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