Dictator Nicolás Maduro’s week has been, to put it mildly, complex. So far, he’s endured intense criticism from a considerable amount of countries at the United Nations General Assembly, he’s had his innermost circle harshly sanctioned by the United States (including his Primera Combatiente, whatever the fuck that means), and he spoke before a mostly empty hall, having his words fall on either deaf or no ears at all. But, for today, let’s focus on perhaps the most symbolically powerful (albeit logistically useless) international action against Maduro’s regime this week: the complaint filed against him at the International Criminal Court.
The facts: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru said they were planning to submit a request before the Netherlands-based court.
The facts: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru said they were planning to submit a request before the Netherlands-based court, asking for an investigation of the Venezuelan regime for Crimes Against Humanity. Later on, Canada joined the movement for the request, which was introduced on Wednesday morning. This is huge for a couple of reasons. But first, the obvious question:
What exactly is the International Criminal Court?
Not to be confused with the International Court of Justice (and boy, do my students confuse them), the ICC is an international court based upon the Rome Statute, which currently holds 123 member states. Its purpose isn’t resolving disputes between countries (that would be the ICJ), but to judge individual criminals whose crimes either can’t be judged in their own countries or are heinous enough to be judged by “the world.” This is not an open list, but rather very specific crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity (Maduro’s case), and crimes of aggression.
Why does this matter?
Back to the story. This is huge, mainly because no member state has ever referred another to the ICC. In a diplomatic world marked by sovereignty and non-intervention, countries are very careful not to mess with each other’s business. The fact that these six states are willing to make an exception for Venezuela’s case says quite a bit about how bad they believe the situation is.
Ok, so what does it mean?
In terms of Law, it means the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, should now launch an investigation on Venezuela. Bensouda had already stated, in February, that a “preliminary investigation” was underway. This new complaint is a call to fast-track the investigation and come to conclusions sooner.
The bad news:
I can’t promise that the investigation will lead to an accusation, much less a conviction. If the international world is slow, and the judicial world is slow, try combining the two. The ICC measures time in years, if not decades. Moreover, even if a formal accusation is made (which would be even bigger in symbolic terms), there’s absolutely no guarantee of apprehension, trial and conviction. For all its conceptual worth, the ICC has only convicted four of the 34 people indicted. So the most likely answer is no, Nicolás Maduro will not rot in a Dutch-based international prison.
So, what’s the point?
The world of international relations is complex. It deals in support and animosity, tactics like friendship and cooperation on the one side, with isolating, naming and shaming on the other. So, while we won’t see an international SWAT team ram down the doors to Miraflores and drag a pajama-clad Nicolás Maduro kicking and screaming from his late-night re-viewing of Mean Girls to a cold, dark cell, there’s still a silver lining.
For all its conceptual worth, the ICC has only convicted four of the 34 people indicted.
This complaint, coupled with all the other international actions we discussed at the start of the post, means there’s a more solid international movement regarding the Venezuelan situation than ever before. Now, I’m not personally a big believer in international actions toppling a dictatorship. But as far as the UN world goes, this approach is as good as it gets for us.
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