GENEVA — U.N. human rights investigators suggested the International Criminal Court should take up evidence that Venezuelan security forces carried out hundreds of arbitrary killings and other abuses in the name of fighting crime.
The Geneva-based Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, said the Venezuelan government under President Nicolas Maduro seemed to have done almost nothing to hold accountable the 357 officers investigated between 2015 and 2017.
The investigations focused on 505 killings that occurred during what were supposed to be neighborhood raids. Evidence apparently disappeared from the case files, the report found.
Also cited was evidence of serious human rights violations such as excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture that is related to “the grave impact of the economic and social crisis in the country on the rights to food and health.”
The head of OHCHR, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who is a Jordanian prince, said “the failure to hold security forces accountable for such serious human rights violations suggests that the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela.”
Venezuela’s moribund economy, already reeling from hyperinflation, has been further buckling under the weight of international oil sanctions and critical shortages of medicine and food.
“For years now, institutional checks and balances and the democratic space in Venezuela have been chiseled away,” Zeid said in a statement.
Since the violations are serious and the government has refused his office’s repeated requests for access to the country, Zeid said he recommended that the U.N. Human Rights Council appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the situation further.
“Given that the state appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations, there is also a strong case to be made for deeper involvement by the International Criminal Court,” he said, referring to the world’s first permanent tribunal for prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
“For years now, institutional checks & balances and the democratic space in #Venezuela have been chiseled away, leaving little room to hold the State to account. The #impunity must end” – UN Human Rights Chief #Zeid: https://t.co/omAzVKLfg8 pic.twitter.com/GeHnoekYWU
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 22, 2018
In late May, a panel of experts from the Organization of American States set the stage for a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court, or ICC. The experts found “reasonable grounds exist to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela dating back to at least February 12, 2014,” according to an OAS statement.
The panel’s 405-page report said it found evidence Maduro’s administration was complicit in multiple murders, more than 12,000 cases of imprisonment and arbitrary detention and other cases of torture, rape, political persecution and enforced disappearances.
The experts recommended that OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro submit the report to the ICC prosecutor’s office, which could launch an investigation. The OAS, which includes the United States, has been a fierce critic of Maduro, the embattled socialist leader.
As successor to the late leftist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro easily won re-election to a second, six-year term in May and declared it a win against “imperialism.”
Several challengers were not allowed to run. They raised allegations of voting irregularities. After the United States called it a “sham” election, Maduro ordered the U.S. charge d’affaires and his deputy out of the country for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote.
In January, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced he would refer a long-standing border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela to the International Court of Justice, or ICJ. Like the ICC, the ICJ is based at The Hague, Netherlands. It acts as the U.N.’s main judicial body for settling disputes among nations.
The Venezuelan government had no immediate comment on the new report from Zeid’s office. Venezuela said in a statement in June it would not participate in the ICJ procedure or recognize that court’s jurisdiction over the matter.
In the case of the ICC, however, Venezuela ratified the Rome Statute that underpins the court’s authority in 2000. The Rome Statute was adopted in July 1998 by 120 nations and entered into force in July 2002, which is when the court became operational.
The ICC said in a statement it has the authority to exercise jurisdiction over Venezuela or its nationals from July 1, 2002 onwards. It is intended to function as a court of last resort, stepping in only when nations are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.
As of 2018, it had 123 ratifying members. There were 124 last year, but Burundi withdrew as of October. The Philippines gave notice this year it plans to withdraw in March 2019.
Cases can be referred to the ICC by the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, but five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — hold veto power there.
A Palestinian request for a full investigation into Israeli settlement policies and alleged crimes in May also brought into focus the role of the ICC, created to bring to justice those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law.