ICC prosecutor Karim Khan (L) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hold up a memorandum of understanding that states despite their differences the ICC will launch an investigation into allegations of crimes committed in Venezuela in 2017. Photo courtesy of the International Criminal Court/Twitter
Nov. 3 (UPI) -- The International Criminal Court announced Wednesday it is launching a full investigation into allegations of crimes committed by the Venezuelan government against opposition protesters in 2017.
The announcement was made by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan during a press conference with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in which the pair signed a memorandum of understanding that states Khan sees cause to open an investigation following the conclusion of a preliminary examination of the situation in the country in 2017 while Venezuela believes the allegations should be investigated by national institutions.
However, "despite the differences of views on this issue" the two sides agree to work together, states the memorandum.
"As we move into this new stage, I am really pleased that by way of the letters we have just signed we are committed to working collaboratively, independently but with full regard to the principles of positive complementarity," Khan said.
He acknowledged the sensitive nature of the investigation, pointing to the "fault lines" that exist at home and the "geopolitical divisions" that exist abroad concerning the socialist nation, and attempted to assure the public that it, an apolitical organization, will conduct a fair probe.
"We are guided by the principles of legality and the rule of law, and I ask everybody now as we move forward to this new stage to give my office the space to do its work," he said. "I will take a very dim view of any efforts to politicize the independent work of my office."
The investigation comes years after the ICC opened a preliminary examination into Venezuela's 2017 crackdown on protests, which was referred to the international judicial body by Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.
The security forces of Venezuela, under the Maduro regime, have been accused of using excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations as well as arrest and detain thousands of members of the opposition, some of whom are also believed to have been subjected to abuse and mistreatment.
In 2018, the ICC concluded that there was "reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed in Venezuela since at least April 2017."
Maduro said that although he disagrees, he will respect Khan's decision to continue to the next phase. He also lamented having been "blind" to the preliminary examination and concerning which they share a difference of opinion
However, the agreement, he said, is "a positive step."
The agreement is "the synthesis of these conferences that have been a step forward in relations of positive complementarity and cooperation between the Venezuelan state, our Bolivarian Republic, and the prosecution of the Hague criminal court," he said.
The opposition National Assembly said in a since-deleted tweet that they "celebrate" the ICC's decision and that it "reaffirms the complaints of the victims."
Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, said the investigation follows "the extreme repression the Maduro government has inflicted on the Venezuelan people."
"The ICC prosecutor has a mandate to hold those most responsible for the gravest international crimes to account, so this decision should be a powerful wakeup call not only for those who committed abuses or covered them up, but also for military and civilian leaders who knew or should have known what was happening and failed to act," he said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch in 2014 and 2017 released reports of widespread abuses during crackdowns on anti-government protesters and which were not isolated cases. It has said there have been nearly 18,000 people killed between 2016 and 2016 in the country by security forces on allegations of resistance to authority.
"In the absence of robust and independent investigations in Venezuelan into those most responsible for egregious abuses, which would require an overhaul of the country's dysfunctional and politicized justice system, the ICC will have a critical role to play as a court of last resort," Vivanco said. "To deliver on expectations for justice in Venezuela as well as in other situations around the globe, ICC member countries need to step up their political and financial support for this court."