International Criminal Court opens office in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office said Thursday it will open an office in Venezuela to investigate allegations of torture and killings by the South American country’s security forces.

The decision to open the office was announced by ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan at the end of a three-day trip to the capital, Caracas.

In a televised appearance alongside President Nicolás Maduro, Khan said he welcomed the Venezuelan government’s commitment to explore cooperation and technical assistance as part of efforts to investigate alleged crimes against humanity.

Among other things, Khan said Maduro’s government has agreed to provide visas to court officials and the participation of international organizations and partners, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Any state that has difficulties in complying with the rule of law must be respected,” Khan said. He added that he is “aware that the visit may not have been easy; but I am very grateful for the engagement and open debates we had.”

Khan announced the investigation in November. At that time, the court and Maduro’s government signed a memorandum of understanding in which the government agreed to cooperate in clarifying the facts that led to the initiation of the case.

This announcement followed a lengthy preliminary investigation that began in February 2018 and focused on allegations of excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture by security forces during a crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017.

Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda had suggested that there was reasonable basis for concluding that crimes against humanity had been committed in Venezuela, echoing the findings of the UN Human Rights Council last year. But she left the decision to launch an investigation to Khan, a British lawyer who took over the reins of the ICC earlier this year.

Maduro said Thursday the opening of the Venezuela office will allow for an “effective level of dialogue” that will help clarify the facts in a timely manner.

“We are first interested in seeing justice accomplished, and if a crime is committed, it will be punished in a timely manner according to the law,” Maduro said. He added that the country’s judicial system is being overhauled.

Since its inception two decades ago, the ICC has primarily focused on atrocities committed in Africa. It could be years before charges are brought as part of the court investigation.

In a written statement, Khan said the start of the process was “a two-way street” and should also serve as a basis for stronger partnerships.

He said efforts to implement the MOU would include providing technical assistance and knowledge transfer to Venezuelan authorities “to support the effective investigation and prosecution of alleged crimes at the national level,” as well as providing training and expert advice in support of the Implementation of national legislation.

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