Above photo: Attorney General Tarek William Saab speaks during a press conference at his office’s headquarters in Caracas. Twitter/ @MinpublicoVE.
Attorney General Saab stressed Venezuela’s willingness to work with the ICC but expressed frustration with the court’s “lack of transparency.”
Mexico City, Mexico – The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office submitted an updated report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 30 detailing its efforts to address alleged human rights abuses by state officials.
In September 2018, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, with support from the US and a handful of allied countries, filed a suit before the ICC accusing the Nicolás Maduro government of being responsible for “crimes against humanity” during violent anti-government protests in 2017.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab said his office had engaged in “meticulous” work to defend human rights. He noted that during his nearly four-year tenure, 716 state security officials had been indicted in relation to alleged human rights abuses, with a further 40 civilians also charged in connection to these cases. The judicial processes have yielded a reported 153 convictions so far.
Saab stressed the South American country’s willingness to work with the ICC but expressed frustration with the court’s lack of transparency concerning the investigation.
“While Venezuela’s willingness to collaborate has been clear, we must stress the ICC prosecution’s lack of transparency in the ongoing case,” he told reporters last Friday.
The update provided by the Venezuelan state to the court is the third of its kind, with the first having been submitted on November 30, 2020. However, the ICC has failed to update Venezuela about how the process’ evolution since the investigation by the court began, despite Saab having met in person with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last November.
Saab also noted that the ICC normally cooperates with the judicial system in countries where the state has indicated that it will proceed with an investigation, yet the Hague-based court has thus far not done so in the case of Venezuela. Caracas said it was requesting a formal review of the country’s efforts to address human rights concerns.
In his statement, Saab also provided an update about five high-profile cases of alleged human rights abuses that have garnered national and international attention.
In the case of Venezuelan opposition politician Fernando Albán, who was first believed to have committed suicide while in police custody in October 2018, Saab said public officials faced immediate charges for violating custody protocols and were eventually, accused of “involuntary manslaughter” among other charges.
Saab also spoke of the case of Juan Pernalete, who was killed amid clashes with security forces during the 2017 anti-government protests. At the time, Venezuelan officials alleged that the autopsy report showed Pernalete had been killed using a bolt pistol. However, the attorney general stated that the cause of death had been the impact of a tear gas canister and that 12 National Guard officials had been indicted.
After the investigation into the death of retired Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo, who died in state custody allegedly as a result of torture in June 2019, the case was reopened upon orders of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Saab indicated that an indictment hearing of suspects in that case was held in October of last year.
The country’s chief prosecutor also commented on the extrajudicial executions of two journalists from Guacamaya TV in August 2020 by members of the Bolivarian National Police’s Special Action Forces (FAES), stating that five officers had been indicted with “qualified homicide” and a former prosecutor had been charged for her role in covering up the crime. Saab had previously referred to the event as “embarrassing” and decried that FAES agents tried to frame the extrajudicial killings as an armed confrontation.
Venezuela’s US-backed opposition criticized the attorney general’s statement, with the office of self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó accusing the government of “trying to fool” the international court. Anti-government figures had fiercely contested the initial verdicts in the cases of Albán and Pernalete.
There are presently two cases involving Venezuela at the ICC, one brought forward by the opposition and the other by the Venezuelan government.
In February of last year Venezuela set in motion legal proceedings to have the US government investigated for its unilateral coercive measures, or sanctions, which Venezuelan government officials have described as a “crime against humanity”. The United States is not a member of the body and the ICC tends not to rule on inter-state disputes.
Edited by Ricardo Vez from Sarare.