International criminal court probes Venezuela abuses

The international criminal court is investigating alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela following complaints from the US and the UK.

Prosecutors began an inquiry on Friday.

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The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she had referred “a number of alleged atrocities committed in Venezuela” to the prosecutor’s office to explore whether an investigation was “appropriate and warranted”.

Her decision follows similar referrals in January to investigate torture in Syria and the war crimes at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.

Allegations that Venezuelan security forces have violated human rights were first raised by US and UK diplomats at the regional group of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in January. Venezuelan opposition leaders have separately accused the military of carrying out extrajudicial killings and torture.

México has also complained about the alleged rights abuses, particularly at the hands of security forces, in Caracas.

The ICC is an international court established in 2002 to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity. Since its inception, it has indicted only four suspects. Those charged include the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has yet to be tried.

Venezuela expelled the US ambassador to Caracas in 2017 for criticising president Nicolás Maduro’s government. The US responded with sanctions.

Maduro’s government is accused of multiple crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and the seizing of land. Last year, Venezuelan security forces, backed by allies in the armed forces, were accused of killing more than 120 protesters during a wave of anti-government demonstrations.

In March, the Venezuelan opposition recognised Juan Guaidó as interim president following a pro-government rally, in defiance of Maduro’s strongman rule.

More than 120 people were killed between 2017 and last month.

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