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The International Criminal Court is looking into claims that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, a spokeswoman says.
Officials are said to have committed torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
“There are credible allegations of crimes against humanity committed against the civilian population,” a spokeswoman said.
This will be the first time the ICC, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, is investigating alleged crimes in Venezuela.
“The Office of the Prosecutor has opened an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity,” the spokeswoman said.
“This includes allegations of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings against individuals and families.”
What is the ICC?
The ICC was set up in 2002 by the founding members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – Belgium, Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Ireland, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and the US.
Claims of the war crimes in Venezuela were made in a petition signed by public figures including Reporters Without Borders and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel.
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The petition says there is “reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed by the Venezuelan authorities, and that they are acting with the support of the highest levels of the state and with the intent to oppress the civilian population and extort money and property”.
The UN Security Council has recently held meetings on Venezuelan violence, and the Council’s human rights committee is also holding a closed-door discussion on the situation in Venezuela later on Monday.
The ICC’s Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will decide when her investigation will start.
‘Peace for the Venezuelans’
The three-year-old crisis in Venezuela has left more than 100,000 people dead, and millions of children struggling to access adequate food.
The ICC investigation could take years to complete.
There are some doubts if the ICC will be able to act against senior government officials, particularly because its statute allows nations to sign up to the court.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the country’s constitution to take the presidency and called for fresh elections.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rejected Mr Guaido’s call and dismissed him as a US puppet, but Mr Guaido still has the backing of three Latin American nations.
“This is peace for the Venezuelans,” President Guaido said of the ICC investigation.
“I call upon the international community to support the cause of freedom and dignity for the people of Venezuela.”