Former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on March 26, 2015.

Former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on March 26, 2015.
Photo Credit: PC / Sean Kilpatrick

Former Canadian justice minister to look into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela

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A veteran Canadian politician and human rights campaigner has been appointed to a panel of international experts that will examine evidence collected on possible crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Friday.

Professor Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and attorney general of Canada, will be part of a team of international human rights experts being assembled to work with the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno Ocampo, Freeland said.

Ocampo has been appointed special adviser on crimes against humanity by Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro.

“I am so pleased to support the appointment of my friend and former colleague Professor Cotler to this investigative panel and welcome his global experience with regard to human rights and the rule of law, which will be invaluable to the credibility and quality of this investigative process,” Freeland said.

“This initiative represents a critical contribution by the OAS to uphold justice and human rights for the people of Venezuela.”

A protester holds a national flag as a bank branch, housed in the magistracy of the Supreme Court of Justice, burns during a rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela June 12, 2017.
A protester holds a national flag as a bank branch, housed in the magistracy of the Supreme Court of Justice, burns during a rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela June 12, 2017. © Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The OAS initiative comes following reports of human rights abuses during months of civil unrest that began in April after Venezuela’s Supreme Court, dominated by supporters of President Nicolas Maduro, ruled to strip the opposition-dominated parliament of its powers, accusing lawmakers of “contempt” after allegations of irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections.

The ruling, which was denounced as a coup by the opposition, was later reversed but massive street protests against Maduro government continued.

According to a report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Aug. 30, at least 124 people had died in the unrest as of July 31.

Riot security forces pass through a roadblock during a strike called to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela July 26, 2017.
Riot security forces pass through a roadblock during a strike called to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela July 26, 2017. © Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The security forces were reportedly responsible for 46 and pro-government armed groups, known as armed colectivos, for 27. Responsibility for the remaining 51 deaths has not yet been determined, the report concluded.

“The generalized and systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protestors and perceived political opponents indicate that these were not the illegal or rogue acts of isolated officials,” the report says.

The panel will compile and evaluate information, and, if warranted, will submit its findings to the ICC, Freeland said.

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One comment on “Former Canadian justice minister to look into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela
  1. Avatar Peter Ashcroft says:

    It is one thing having an international committee, but another to be given unrestricted access to the whole of Venezuela so as to question both government and opposition leaders and workers, but also any member of the general public nationwide.