Monday, April 25, 2022

The ICC's Venezuela investigation (April 25, 2022)

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan plans to continue his office's investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela, overriding a request by Venezuela's government to defer, based on allegations that domestic authorities were already investigating these crimes. On April 20, Khan notified a panel of ICC judges of Venezuela’s request and indicated that his office would soon ask the judges to reject the request. Khan’s office also said it will seek to engage with victims and their legal representatives. The investigation is on hold until the judges rule on Khan’s forthcoming request.

“The ICC prosecutor’s expressed intention to proceed with his investigation, pending judicial approval, is a positive sign,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Moving forward, it’s essential for the ICC prosecutor to meaningfully engage with victims, affected communities, and the civil society groups seeking justice for Venezuelans’ suffering.”

Venezuela’s judiciary has failed to adequately investigate widespread abuses despite compelling evidence, and impunity for human rights abuses remains the norm, Human Rights Watch said. Recent measures to reform Venezuela’s justice system are not adequate to address the profound lack of judicial independence in the country, and may even aggravate it.

The developments build on a three-day Caracas trip by Khan in March, which concluded with the announcement that the ICC would open an office in Venezuela as it advances the investigation it began last year into human rights violations committed by Venezuelan authorities and government supporters since 2017. The ICC said it seeks to “deepen cooperation” with the Venezuelan government through the opening of the national office to facilitate the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in November, and to support efforts to investigate crimes at the national level. (Venezuela Update)

On April 5, a group of civil society activists met with President Nicolás Maduro to present a series of demands for meaningful democratic and judicial reforms. The group published the letter that they presented to Maduro, which includes a list of demands regarding the need to establish independence in Venezuela’s justice system and the Supreme Court (TSJ) and the urgency of returning to negotiations in Mexico City. Following backlash to the meeting from the opposition and others critical of the notion of negotiating with Maduro, participants in the meeting have publicly emphasized the importance of taking the opportunity to establish spaces for dialogue and engage with those in power to advance institutional reform—while not abandoning their commitment to human rights. (Venezuela Update)

More Venezuela
  • Last week, a group of Venezuelan civil society leaders, economists and analysts called on the United States, Maduro’s government and Venezuela's opposition to restart political talks in order to ease oil sanctions that would alleviate the humanitarian crisis. (Bloomberg)

  • Some experts posit that easing sanctions is critical to tackle the country's humanitarian crisis -- 25 percent of the country's population is malnourished and 94 percent lives in poverty, according to some statistics -- while others counter that it would strengthen Maduro's government, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
News Briefs

El Salvador 
  • El Salvador’s congress voted yesterday to extend an anti-gang emergency decree for another 30 days, in response to a request from President Nayib Bukele. Bukele has used emergency powers to round up about 16,000 suspected gang members following a spate of killings a month ago, raising significant concerns among human rights groups. (Associated Press)
  • An ecosystem of organized crime threatens the Amazon, and global climate action, warn Robert Muggah and Mac Margolis in Reuters. "For all the talk about how destruction in the Amazon leads to greenhouse gases, there is less discussion about how to rein in the increasingly agile cabal of criminal entrepreneurs" that has spurred a regional public security crisis in parallel to the raging climate emergency.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been touring the country in an effort to project strength and popularity and win back millions of voters who abandoned him. He remains the underdog in October's presidential elections, but his polling has improved in recent weeks, and a second mandate is not impossible, reports the Guardian.

  • Brazil held Carnival celebrations this weekend, with a two month delay due to coronavirus concerns. Many saw the revelry as  chance to vent their spleen at Bolsonaro, reports the Guardian.
Regional Relations
  • Brazil’s pragmatic, at times ambivalent, stance towards the Russia-Ukraine war is motivated by national interests, diplomatic traditions and electoral concerns for Bolsonaro, reports Al Jazeera.

  • Nicaragua's government said it had completed its withdrawal from the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS countered that Nicaragua's rejection of the group could not go into effect until the end of 2023 given the country's status as an active member. Nicaragua's government also said it had closed the local OAS office and revoked the credentials of several OAS representatives as part of an "unwavering decision" to leave the organization. (Reuters)
  • Hundreds of women marched through downtown Mexico City yesterday to protest the horrifying death of 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar, whose body was found Thursday in a cistern at a motel in Monterrey, almost two weeks after she had gone missing. (Associated Press)
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo said he will submit to Congress a bill to allow Peruvian citizens to be consulted on the drafting of a new Constitution. The issue of a new constitution, and how to draft it, has been on Castillo's agenda since his election campaign, but with varying degrees of emphasis, in the midst of a growing political crisis and frequent cabinet changes. (Europa PressBloomberg)
  • Honduras' Congress unanimously repealed a law which allowed for the creation of special economic zones exempt from some national laws and taxes throughout the country, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs), reports Reuters.

  • Juan Orlando Hernández, the former president of Honduras, appeared virtually for his initial US court appearance Friday on federal drug trafficking and firearms possession charges, reports CNN. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro extended his lead ahead of next month's elections in the latest CNC poll published by Semana: in the most likely runoff scenario Petro would get 44.8% of votes versus 36.9% for former Medellin mayor Federico “Fico” Gutierrez. (Bloomberg)

  • Leftist former Bogotá mayor Petro is in his his third attempt at the presidency -- but this is his best shot at victory. "Colombians are frustrated with the status quo and for many Petro speaks credibly about the ills facing the country," writes Benjamin Russell for Americas Quarterly.
  • Argentine economy minister Martin Guzmán said that a $45 billion debt deal with the International Monetary Fund will not be modified, following a meeting with IMF head Kristalina Georgieva, Friday. (Reuters)

  • Thousands of Argentine farmers protested in Buenos Aires this weekend against President Alberto Fernández, particularly his policies aimed at containing food prices in the midst of rampant inflation, reports Reuters.
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