The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced Wednesday it would launch a formal investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity in Venezuela but signed a memorandum of understanding with the offending party, the socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro, that guarantees the regime will have a say in investigating itself.
Maduro published the terms of the memorandum and celebrated it as “the beginning of a new phase of dialogue, cooperation, and mutual support to seek truth and justice.”
“I’m fully aware of the flaws that exist in Venezuela, the political division. We (the ICC) are not political, we are guided by the principles of legality and the rule of law,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Wednesday, urging the public to “give my office space to do its work” now that he had decided to move forward with an investigation.
The ICC is a global institution tasked with processing cases in which individuals are reasonably accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It can only prosecute individual people, not states, and only has the power to address those three crimes.
Khan spent three days in Venezuela this week before his announcement, meeting with victims of Maduro regime brutality. The ICC investigation is focusing on the particularly violent events of 2017, during which Maduro announced a plan to draft a new constitution and triggered a national backlash in the form of mostly peaceful protests. Maduro’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), a military entity, crushed the protests by killing at least 125 people. The Maduro regime itself admitted to arresting over 77,000 people that year, claiming the operations to be purely combatting petty crime, not silencing political dissidents.
Many of the regime’s victims that year were children. Police killed many and imprisoned others in political prisons alongside adult common criminals. In one particularly gruesome instance, GNB members allegedly used an armored truck to run over a 14-year-old, crushing his legs, then dragged him into the truck to torture him.
The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) found in a 2018 report that democracy, freedom of expression, citizen security, and economic rights had all collapsed in the country under Maduro.
Despite all evidence suggesting that the Maduro regime was directly responsible for the alleged crimes against humanity being investigated, the ICC agreed to share authority of the investigation with the dictatorship. Maduro himself shared the full text of the memorandum of understanding between the ICC and the Maduro regime, which, among other provisions, suggests that Maduro’s judicial system should process anyone accused of crimes against humanity.
Comparto el Memorándum de entendimiento entre la República Bolivariana de Venezuela y la CPI. Garantizaremos el cumplimiento de este #DocumentoHistórico que marca el inicio de una nueva etapa de diálogo, cooperación y apoyo mutuo para buscar la verdad y la justicia. pic.twitter.com/JH1fsurpb8
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) November 3, 2021
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela considers that the accusations should be investigated in the country by the existing national institutions created for this purpose,” the document reads in part. “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a national jurisdiction will adopt all necessary measures to assure the effective administration of justice, according to international standards, with the support and active commitment of the prosecution of the International Criminal Court.”
The document asserts, despite Maduro’s clear role in the violence, that the investigative process so far “has not identified any suspect or any objective and that the investigation’s purpose is to determine the truth and if there were or not motives to charge some persons.”
The Maduro regime and ICC agreed to “actively collaborate with each other.”
“I’m the first one who wants to know the truth,” Maduro said in remarks announcing the agreement on Wednesday. “I am the first one who wants there to be justice.”
Maduro’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab also applauded the ICC for collaborating with the regime, using an idiom that roughly translates to “those who did nothing wrong should have nothing to fear.” Saab insisted the ICC would find that the Maduro regime had already dispensed justice for victims of the alleged crimes.
“When the ICC experts come, review, and investigate – together with the regular criminal jurisdiction of Venezuela, with the Public Ministry, with criminal courts – they will be surprised to find that, indeed, there has been a long work, a development, technical expertise, forensic expertise, imputations,” Saab said. “Venezuela, with its auxiliary organs of justice like the Public Ministry, with regular criminal courts, has done justice and avoided impunity.”
Saab did not offer any examples of a single GNB agent or government official suffering criminal consequences for violence against peaceful, anti-socialist protesters.
Despite the bleak outlook for any meaningful resolution to the crimes investigated, the head of the socialist opposition in Venezuela, technically legal President Juan Guaidó, applauded the ICC for its announcement, disregarding that it included cooperation with Maduro.
“The formal opening of an investigation into crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court vindicates the right to obtain the justice that has been denigrated in Venezuela for the victims and their families,” Guaidó said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We ratify our struggle for justice in this sense: collaborating with all investigations that will contribute to the determination of the truth and the establishment of penal responsibilities for individuals throughout the chain of command.”
Guaidó has been the president of Venezuela since 2019 but has no control over any Venezuelan government institution and has failed to strip Maduro of his illegitimate power in any significant way.