About Hope and the OAS Hearings

If you want to see the Maduro regime prosecuted for crimes against humanity, then you’re in luck. That road, however, is as tangled and complex as you might expect.

The OAS hearings are what many Venezuelans have been waiting for: the possibility of seeing the Maduro regime prosecuted for crimes against humanity. In the Secretary General’s (Luis Almagro) three reports on the issue, it’s hinted that there might be grounds to believe the Maduro regime is involved in crimes prosecutable at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Almagro even called former ICC prosecutor, Argentinian Luis Moreno Ocampo, on a special advisor capacity to analyze the case. Moreno Ocampo explained that, in his view, the only category of crimes for which the ICC could intervene, are crimes against humanity (the other two types being genocide and war crimes). His main task is to gather information and evaluate if, in fact, these crimes have been committed. In that context, he’ll establish their massive and systematic nature, as well as individual responsibilities.

The testimonies made by exiled military officers and civilians are staggering: beatings, isolation, psychological torture, electric shocks, rape, insults, asphyxiation with toxic gases, feces in food and many other abhorrent tactics, all carried out by Venezuelan security forces, against detainees, including political prisoners, who have lost between 15 and 35 kilograms. Descriptions and stories from La Tumba, the infamous prison cell 5 stories below ground level within SEBIN headquarters, are daunting. Today, exiled Major General Hebert Garcia Plaza’s account of how decisions are made on political prisoners, including Cilia Flores’ role as omnipresent political advisor to president Maduro, offer a glimpse at how the justice strings are pulled from Miraflores.

The OAS process is a preliminary step that, significant as it might be, is not part of any formal procedure.

We’ve known for years of these situations, but to hear lawyers, NGOs and victims explain in detail the horror and injustice unfolding, although shocking, provides some sort of relief and hope that maybe perpetrators will be put  on trial. Most importantly: it’s the first time these cases are being heard publicly in a formal setting.

This is not a guarantee, however, that the issue will make it all the way to The Hague. The steps and requirements needed are complex, the first one being a preliminary examination by which the Prosecutor’s Office decides if “there is enough information on crimes of sufficient gravity”, providing a “reasonable basis” for investigation. Venezuela was already subject to such examination in 2006, and the very same Moreno Ocampo concluded there was not enough evidence to investigate, in accordance with the Rome Statute.

The OAS process is a preliminary step that, significant as it might be, is not part of any formal procedure. In fact, it has been framed within the Organization’s responsibility to consolidate peace in the region, included in Article 2 of the OAS Charter. The hearings and written information will go into a report that will later be reviewed by a three-person panel of independent experts. It’ll make public its conclusions at a fourth hearing, set for October 30th.

The report will then be sent to Almagro’s office for further action, depending on the experts’ and Moreno Ocampo’s findings. What happens next is not clear yet. What is becoming clearer is that, even if the case does not ultimately reach The Hague, the regime’s arbitrary, criminal, and cruel nature, as well as its disregard for the law, is exposed and well documented, for everyone to see, at anytime.

Proof is, indeed, piling up.