At the ICC, the Perpetrator is Playing the Victim

Maduro is buying time at The Hague by fabricating absurd claims and hiring a prestigious British human rights lawyer. But Prosecutor Khan is not releasing the pressure

For the first time in its history, the International Criminal Court broadcasted live two appeal audiences, where its Office of the Prosecutor and its Office for Public Counsel of Victims and the State under evaluation, Venezuela, addressed specific issues arising from their allegations. During two days of debate, November 7 and 8, every party expressed its opinions and interpretations regarding the case Venezuela I, starting with the fact stated by the Pre-Trial Chamber: the Venezuelan State is not investigating the abuses that may be considered international crimes.

In these audiences, the representatives of the Maduro regime cannot toss their usual opinions and bravado, as they do during the Exams of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This time, the Foreign Relations minister, Yván Gil, just read a prepared statement for seven minutes to say nothing new. For the government Gil was representing, the situation in Venezuela is reduced to “some incidents” and the ICC is investigating nonexistent crimes against humanity.

The surprise was the leader of the defense team, Michael “Ben” Emmerson. This British lawyer is an specialist in human rights and humanitarian law, was a UN relator on human rights, worked as a special advisor for the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, and was rewarded by the Crown as Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his career on human rights in 2020.

Quite a defense for quite a process. The regime knows this: one thing is the Exam in Geneva (where it can count, as any autocracy, with its allies in the UN), and another is this evaluation in The Hague. The eighteen members of the United Nations Human Rights Committee can only criticize how Venezuela is complying with the universal obligations on political and civil rights and issue fifty recommendations for the country. But the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC can insist on continuing an investigation that may end up with a judicial procedure and criminal sanctions against the people responsible for atrocities.

So Emmerson, the Venezuelan State’s new councilor, underlined that the government is committed to continuing its domestic investigations,and that sovereignty gives Venezuela the right to proceed according to its laws. For him, the crimes under discussion at the ICC regard human rights, but they are not grave enough to be international crimes, or crimes against humanity that require the intervention of the ICC. 

A deliberate mess

The speaking turns of Emmerson also showed two of the strategies to stop or delay the investigation. First, to insist that the main obstacle for the cause is the obligation, for the Venezuelan State, of translating to English all the documents it needs to provide. The second, to focus on mistakes or irregularities by part of the Court that make the Office of the Prosecutors usurp functions of the Pre-Trial Chamber.

This is when things went messy. According to the councilor, the Office of the Prosecutor dismissed proofs in Spanish (a working, but not official language at the ICC) sent by Venezuela to the Pre-Trial Chamber. The Office of the Prosecutor also said that Venezuela did not require that Spanish must be an official language in the process, and that the documents presented by the government as evidence of its investigation were no more than diagrams and articles in the press. The Office for Victims added that it managed to get the ICC accept that Spanish could be officially used in this case and that actually the testimonies by victims and witnesses have been delivered in Spanish. In fact, the conclusions of the Office for Victims were read in Spanish during the audiences. 

Another divergence is about numbers. Emmerson talked about 148 cases under investigation sent to the Court, trying again to alledge that the government is doing its job. But the Office of the Prosecutor talked about 65 police files that, on the contrary, prove the pattern of investigation neglect by Venezuela. At the same time, the Office of Victims presented, in October, the collected testimonies of 2,684 individual victims and 104 families that contradict what Emmerson says about the State is really investigating the abuses.

In short, these two unprecedented audiences broadcasted live showed, in real time, how the Venezuelan State can use due process —the same it never follows in its own country— to evade its international responsibility. Once again, the regime did not comply with the requirement of delivering substantial and pertinent evidence about the progress of the investigations it says it’s doing. So far, the Maduro regime has been unable to demonstrate that it is investigating the crimes it has to investigate, according to the Rome Statute Venezuela signed in 1998 and ratified in 2000.Meanwhile, the investigation remains suspended. Now, the ICC judges have to reach a conclusion whether to resume it or not. At the same time, the Maduro regime is still being evaluating in the Exam on human rights at the UN. By November 3rd, 2026, it should have complied with at least three of the fifty recommendations: to ensure the independence of the courts, to guarantee freedom of speech, and to respect the right to participate in public matters. Meanwhile, the UN Fact Finding Mission is preparing its  investigation for a new report next year.