Canada and a group of five Latin American nations have referred Venezuela for investigation by the International Criminal Court over allegations of crimes against humanity committed by the government in its crackdown against political opponents, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced Wednesday.
“Canada today joins Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru in referring the situation in Venezuela to the International Criminal Court,” Chrystia Freeland said.
“We have taken this significant action as a result of the numerous, credible reports alleging the commission of serious international crimes in Venezuela.”
It is the first time that member nations of the court have referred a fellow member state to prosecutors and it adds pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which is mired in an economic and political crisis.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the presidents of Peru, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay sent a letter to the court based in The Hague on Wednesday, alleging that crimes against humanity have been committed, officials at Global Affairs Canada said.
“I think the message is that the situation in Venezuela is catastrophic,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
“There is a humanitarian crisis going on in a country that used to be one of the most successful and prosperous countries in South America. The failure of leadership in Venezuela is of concern not just to us but to leaders in the region.”
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The letter was addressed to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who in February began preliminary research into the situation in Venezuela. However, she has yet to ask judges for permission to open a formal investigation.
Findings of possible crimes against humanity
The letter signed by the six leaders follows a report by a panel of international experts, which included Canadian jurist Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister.
The report, which was released at the end of May, concluded that there are reasonable grounds to presume that crimes against humanity, as defined in article 7 of the Rome Statute, may have been committed in Venezuela.
“Canada commends the diligent work and findings of the Panel of Independent International Experts, appointed by Secretary General of the Organization of American States, particularly the findings concerning crimes against humanity in Venezuela,” Freeland said in a statement.
“The International Criminal Court has our full support and confidence.”
She also called on Venezuela to cooperate with the court.