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ICC says Venezuela 'unwilling' to probe rights abuses

By AFP - Aug 12,2021 - Last updated at Aug 12,2021

THE HAGUE — The Venezuelan government is unwilling to investigate crimes against humanity by security forces, the International Criminal Court(ICC) prosecutor's office said in a declassified document that could pave the way for charges.

The Hague-based court opened a preliminary investigation in 2018 into alleged rights abuses by the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, notably for the violent repression of anti-government protests in 2017.

Former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in December 2020 there was a "reasonable basis" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed, but that she needed to see whether Caracas was bringing perpetrators to justice.

However, the prosecutor's office, in a report which was issued when Bensouda stepped down in June but only made public on Tuesday, reached the "conclusion that the authorities are unwilling genuinely to investigate and/or prosecute such cases".

Venezuelan authorities had only brought a "highly limited" number of criminal cases relating to the mass protests, in which around 100 people died, the prosecutor's report said.

"Domestic proceedings have been undertaken or national decisions made for the purpose of shielding persons from criminal responsibility," it said.

Under the Rome Statue that underpins the ICC, the court has the authority to investigate crimes on the soil of member states like Venezuela if they are either unwilling or unable to probe them themselves.

New ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan will have to make the decision on whether to ask judges to open a full-blown investigation.

A full probe could eventually lead to criminal charges against individuals, although any trial could be years away.

The ICC's investigation so far had found that Venezuela security forces and pro-government militia had committed the crimes of imprisonment, torture, rape and persecution, the report said.

It had focused in particular on the ill treatment of people in detention since there was evidence available for those allegations, but could extend further, the report added.

Venezuela has rejected the accusations as a "farce".

Venezuela's Attorney General Tarek William Saab in May announced the indictment of 12 members of the National Guard over the death of a 20-year-old man in Caracas in 2017 from the impact of a tear gas cannister.

A Venezuelan policeman was sentenced to 25 years in prison, also in May, over the murder of a youth during an anti-Maduro demonstration in 2017.

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