Maduro, Have You Heard of the International Criminal Court?

It seems the National Assembly won’t be able to trial Maduro, after all. Enter the International Criminal Court, the little court that could.

Photo: Ekenitr/Flickr, retrieved

On April 17, the National Assembly, with no real power pero con mucha fe, approved a trial against Maduro for the exact same reasons we all think he should rot in prison. Wishful thinking, sure, but you know who can actually prosecute the guy for violating all those human rights? The International Criminal Court (ICC).

The question is: is that actually possible, or is it a different brand of dreams of justice?

Last February 8, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the ICC, announced she’d open a preliminary investigation for crimes committed by the Venezuelan government under the jurisdiction of the ICC. Needless to say, Maduro and co. have a hell of a crime-list, but this court is very specific about what it tries: crimes of aggression, war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity. That last one, by definition, can be torture, rape, imprisonment, enslavement or prosecution on political, religious, or racial grounds, and any other kind of behavior that degrades human dignity. I’m sure you’ve seen one of these associated with high-ranking Venezuelan government officials.

Venezuela is a member of the ICC, which means that yes, Venezuelan nationals can be prosecuted in The Hague, and because the ICC is an independent body from the UN, and Venezuela is a State Party to the ICC, a criminal investigation is not subjected to, nor dependent on, the UN Security Council. That means China and Russia won’t be all up in our faces telling us how great communism is (and how great it is to have preferential oil prices!). But according to international law, the ICC must be a court of last resort, meaning it can only try individuals if the national courts are unable (or unwilling) to do so. We all know what our dear Maikel Moreno and Tarek William Saab have to say about trying Maduro.

Only a preliminary investigation will be carried out soon to decide if there are grounds for a formal procedure. If there are, an investigation has to go through bureaucratic procedures.

Neither Maduro, Cabello nor Benavides are about to become Mother Teresa, so chances are crimes against humanity will keep happening. That’s more accusations and testimonies coming to light, and the government is so care’ tabla that it won’t move a finger to even deny them. Also, Venezuela has come to be a point of concern in the international stage. We’re no longer a random country in Latin America whose leader is “like, a former bus driver, or something.” This is Northern South America now, ruled by Nicolás Maduro, where democracy is an utter joke, money is barely worth the paper it’s printed on and human rights abuses are committed on a daily basis. We stand in the international scene with a huge risk for conflict, and yes, there are worse places, but unlike Syria, Myanmar or North Korea, we’re part of the ICC, a body that can do something.

Yet the fact that the ICC can investigate and prosecute high-ranking government officials doesn’t mean it will. What will be carried out soon is a preliminary investigation, to decide if there are grounds for a formal procedure to take place. If there are, the request for an investigation has to be approved and go through a number of bureaucratic procedures. Nothing extraordinary, but still time-consuming and subjected to change, while running the risk of Venezuelan withdrawing from the ICC.

And that’s where things get complicated. If Venezuela is no longer a member of the ICC, then suspected criminals can’t be investigated, unless the case is referred to the prosecutor by another State, or by none other than the UN Security Council. And we all know how much Putin and Xi Jinping love their counterparts in Miraflores.

However, as of this moment, there’s a pretty good chance for an investigation to take place.

There are horrible criminals who, for many reasons, have gotten away with murder, but from Libya, to Sudan, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the ICC has indicted people responsible for the most atrocious, grotesque human rights violations. Chavismo is running out of friends and whether it’s seen from The Hague, Las Carmelitas or Washington, Nicolás Maduro and his posse are nothing but criminals. There’s no such thing as the perfect crime and they’re sure drawing a lot of attention…