Photo via Clarin

The Organization of American States (OAS) announced today that Argentine Luis Moreno Ocampo will begin investigating whether the Venezuelan government led by Nicolás Maduro committed crimes against humanity that could be tried in the International Criminal Court.

Moreno Ocampo was in fact the organization’s first Chief Prosecutor. He held the post for nine years, from June 2003 until the same month of 2012, when he was replaced by Gambian Fatou Bensouda. In the national context, Moreno Ocampo is widely remembered for being  Assistant Prosecutor in the “Trial of the Juntas” with Chief Prosecutor Julio César Strassera, which tied the members of the de facto military government that ruled Argentina during the last dictatorship.

The decision was announced by OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, in a press conference held in the organization’s headquarters in Washington. Almagro said that he’s seeking to “determine individual responsibilities,” because he is convinced that human rights violations are a “regular practice” in the Caribbean country.

“The analysis of all these subjects (…) will be Moreno Ocampo’s task,” Almagro said. However, the former ICC Prosecutor was quick to say that the aforementioned statements were Almagro’s personal opinion. “It’s valid [the opinion] but I haven’t formed one yet,” he pointed out.

Photo via Eye for Film
Photo via Eye for Film

Moreno Ocampo went on to say that he will kick off a series of hearings at the OAS, where he will interview victims and experts on the situation, and invited the Venezuelan government to partake in the process. He explained that in order to get the ICC to declare itself competent in a potential case, one of three crimes specified in the Rome Statute — of which Venezuela is a participating state — must take place.

“There are three possible crimes the ICC can take on. Genocide, which no one says is going on in Venezuela, War Crimes [either] and there are people assuring that Crimes Against Humanity could be taking place. That, if proven, could fall under the Court’s jurisdiction,” he said.

“Crimes against humanity could be imprisonment, tortures, illegitimate deprivation of liberty, murders, persecutions, but with a certain condition: when they are committed massively against civilian groups as part of an organization’s policy. It has to be as part of a widespread or systematic attack,” he said, making reference to article 7 of the Rome Statute.

Almagro has always been one of the most vocal critics of the Maduro administration in Venezuela. On July 19, he appeared before the US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee’s special hearing on the “Collapse of the Rule of Law in Venezuela” as a special witness.

Almagro appearing before the US Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs. Photo via OAS
Almagro appearing before the US Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs. Photo via OAS

“The Venezuelan Judiciary has violated the principle of assuring justice to its people.” “The Venezuelan people are sentenced to being killed on the streets,” he added.

Regarding potential sanctions to the country’s administration, Almagro said that “they could work and must put pressure on the government,” but argued that “dictatorships can only fall if they are pushed [out] from within the country.”

Venezuela withdrew from the OAS on April 27, after member countries decided to elevate the discussion about the severe crisis the country’s going through to its most important body, the Permanent Council.

On June 24 Almagro revealed that he had been made an offer: Venezuela would return to the organization if he resigned as Secretary General, but he said he rejected the offer. “I offer my post in exchange for Venezuela’s freedom,” he offered instead, in a recorded statement. “We will never resign until we have Venezuela’s freedom in our hands,” he added.

The situation in Venezuela is set to heat up on Sunday, when the Maduro administration is set to hold a Constitutional Assembly to revise the country’s constitution. Last Sunday, 7.2 million Venezuelans voted in a simulated referendum called by the MUD opposition coalition, with the sole goal of rejecting the Constitutional Assembly. Maduro has announced his intention of moving forwards with it anyway.