THE HAGUE – Venezuela has asked the International Criminal Court to defer to authorities in the Latin American nation its investigation into allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by security forces under President Nicolás Maduro’s rule, the court's prosecutor announced Thursday.
If judges accept the request, it would effectively halt the global court's first probe into crimes in a Latin American country and allow Venezuelan law enforcement authorities to investigate.
However, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan indicated he wants to press ahead with the investigation he announced in November and said he will soon ask judges to approve a continuation of his probe.
It will likely take the court’s judges months to rule on the Venezuelan request. Khan said he may, if necessary, ask the judges for authority to carry out investigations pending their decision.
The announcement comes just weeks after Khan announced his office would open an office in Venezuela and welcomed the commitment of the Venezuelan government to explore cooperation and technical assistance as part of efforts to investigate alleged crimes against humanity.
The ICC is a court of last resort that investigates alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave offenses when nations are unable or unwilling to do so — a system known as complementarity.
When Khan announced the opening of his investigation, he also signed a memorandum of understanding with Caracas on the “promotion of cooperation and complementarity.” At the time, Venezuela said it believed it — and not the ICC —should investigate alleged abuses.
Khan said Venezuelan authorities had not provided any fresh reasoning to back up their request to take over the investigation.
Khan’s predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, had indicated there was a reasonable basis to conclude that crimes against humanity had been committed in Venezuela, echoing earlier findings of the United Nations' own human rights council. But she left the decision to open any probe to her successor Khan, a British lawyer who took the reins of the ICC last year.
When Khan announced the opening of his investigation, rights groups hailed it as a significant step forward in the search for justice.
“This is a turning point,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said at the time. “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."