International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan is launching a formal investigation into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by Venezuelan security forces under President Nicolás Maduro. Khan announced the probe, the first of its kind in Latin America, during a televised news conference at the conclusion of his three-day visit to Caracas, yesterday. (Efecto Cocuyo)
He spoke standing alongside Maduro, and said he was aware of the political “fault lines” and “geopolitical divisions” that exist in Venezuela. But Khan said his job was to uphold the principles of legality and the rule of law, not settle scores, reports the Associated Press.
Maduro said he respected the prosecutor's decision and would cooperate, but he disagreed with the prosecutor’s criteria for opening a probe, reports the Washington Post.
United Nations investigators have repeatedly reported patterns of rights abuses in the authoritarian country that constitute “crimes against humanity.” Human rights groups and Venezuela's political opposition celebrated the announcement at an avenue for justice. The decision to investigate confirms that crimes against humanity were committed by Maduro's government, said Provea head Rafael Uzcátegui, who celebrated that victims have overcome intimidation to denounce human rights violations. (Efecto Cocuyo)
“This is a turning point,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch. “Not only does it provide hope to the many victims of Maduro’s government but it also is a reality check that Maduro himself could be held accountable for crimes committed by his security forces and others with total impunity in the name of the Bolivarian revolution.”
The situation in Venezuela, an ICC member country, has been under preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor since February 2018. In September 2018, six ICC member countries asked the prosecutor to investigate potential crimes in Venezuela. It was the first time countries had jointly asked the prosecutor to investigate alleged crimes committed on the territory of another ICC member country. This path of state referral allows the prosecutor to act to open an investigation without first seeking approval by ICC judges, explains Human Rights Watch.
It could be years before any criminal charges are presented as part of the ICC’s investigation. But Maduro's acceptance of the reality of the ICC investigation was an important concession on the government's part. The potential for future punishment "can and should be a point of leverage that Maduro’s opponents use in negotiations to obtain better conditions and an eventual return of democracy," argues James Bosworth in the Latin America Risk Report.
Khan praised the “constructive dialogue” he had with Maduro government officials following meetings with the president, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, Attorney General Tarek William Saab and representatives of the Supreme Court. (Al Jazeera) Facing a potential formal ICC investigation, the government took steps to convince the international community that judicial proceedings into the alleged crimes are underway, reports the Venezuela Weekly.
- Nicaragua's pre-election clampdown is unprecedented, even in Nicaragua’s turbulent history, journalist Carlos F. Chamorro told the Guardian. In Costa Rica, exiled Nicaraguans draw parallels to the Somoza dictatorship era. (See Tuesday's post.)
- Reuters explores some potential post-election scenarios including increased international pressure, economic weakness and increased outward migration.
- A new study that looked at demonstrations worldwide between 2006 and 2020 found that the number of protest movements had more than tripled in less than 15 years. (Washington Post) In Latin America, the second most protest active region in the world, there were 92 protests in the 2006-2010 period, 164 in 2010-2015 and 171 between 2015 and 2020, according to the study by researchers with German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue.
- World Health Organization officials urged countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to limit administering booster shots and hold off on vaccinating children, and to instead allocate scant doses to the most vulnerable. Just 46 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated so far, but the average masks inequalities between countries and within countries, reports the New York Times.
- The U.S. Biden administration placed Israeli spyware maker NSO Group on blacklist after it determined the company has acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the U.S.," reports the Guardian. Mexico's Peña Nieto administration allegedly used NSO's Pegasus system to spy on journalists, human rights activists and critics. (See this July Washington Post piece for context.)
- Colombia’s vast forest is fast receding, partly because guerrillas and criminals are clearing land for farming, ranching and other pursuits. These unregulated activities are causing both dire environmental harm and deadly conflict, according to a Crisis Group report that urges Colombia's government to take urgent steps to halt the damage.
- Colombian authorities are focused on breaking up the Clan del Golfo gang - whose network extends to 28 countries around the world - after the capture of the group's leader Daniel "Otoniel" Usuga in October. Usuga's former organization has alliances with five international cartels and mafia groups to distribute 20 tonnes of cocaine per month, according to Colombian police officials. (Reuters)
- Haitian migrants are increasingly arriving in Puerto Rico, sounding alarms among top island officials, reports the Miami Herald.
- The ability and willingness of Haiti’s gangs to choke off fuel and water, seemingly at will, is enhancing their influence as they push the country to the brink, reports InSight Crime.
- Brazil's elites are pushing for a "third way" candidate in next year's presidential election, in which former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva will challenge President Jair Bolsonaro's bid for a second mandate. But "all of these third way candidates share a glaring problem: They perform dismally in polls," writes Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.
- Brazil is set to hold its largest-ever cellular auction today for broadcast spectrum dedicated to fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology. (Reuters)
- “Amazônia,” a collection of photos by Sebastião Salgado features moving images of an ecosystem under threat -- Americas Quarterly.
- The ongoing humanitarian emergency in Venezuela is putting breast cancer patients at risk, write Tamara Taraciuk Broner and Martina Rapido Ragozzino in the Caracas Chronicles. Treatment can be highly effective when breast cancer is diagnosed early, but the crisis makes it very difficult to obtain treatment in Venezuela.
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