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FACT SHEET: Process to Analyze Whether the Situation in Venezuela Merits Referral to the International Criminal Court

  November 8, 2017


Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations Security Council has clearly established the relationship between crimes committed on a massive scale within a state and international peace and security.

The UN Security Council referred the situations in Darfur (Sudan) in 2005 and Libya 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court because they were considered “a threat to international peace and security.” In 1991, under the same consideration, the UN Security Council considered that “the repression of the Iraqi civilian population,” especially the destabilizing effect for the region of the “flow of refugees … across international borders…”constituted a threat to peace and security in the region. Such a crisis is now taking place in the Americas, where thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing to neighboring countries.

Venezuela is a state party to the Rome Statute, therefore the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to act if it deems it necessary.

The Secretary General, in his report of July 19, 2017 considered that there is evidence that “points to the systematic, tactical and strategic use of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as tools to terrorize the Venezuelan people…”  which could be crimes against humanity and should be brought to the attention of the International Criminal Court.



To lead an effective review process of the situation of violence and repression in Venezuela, the OAS Secretary General appointed a Special Advisor on Crimes against Humanity, Dr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, who served as the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (2003-2012). Dr. Moreno Ocampo was tasked with designing and launching the process.

The OAS Secretary General also appointed an independent panel of three international experts to conclude the process and to assess whether the situation in Venezuela should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for consideration. The jurists are:

  • Manuel Ventura Robles of Costa Rica, former Judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights;
  • Dr. Santiago Cantón, of Argentina, Secretary of Human Rights of the Province of Buenos Aires, and previously Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
  • and Professor Irwin Cotler of Canada, President of the Center for Human Rights Raul Wallenberg, and previously Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Article 15 of the Rome Statute stipulates that to identify crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the Prosecutor shall initiate a preliminary investigation on the basis of information received.

The process at the OAS seeks to compile information to eventually help the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court initiate an investigation of the situation in Venezuela.

The process also seeks to facilitate through an impartial and independent process, the compilation of evidence that provides a reasonable basis for knowing whether crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, the identification of their possible perpetrators, the existence of national investigation procedures, and other elements required under the Rome Statute.

The process is designed to support existing cooperation agreements between the OAS and the ICC and is conducted under the authority of the OAS Secretary General.  It allows the OAS to engage with victims of the situation that is taking place in Venezuela and the involvement of the OAS representatives. The OAS has a regional mandate to focus on maintaining peace and security, and crime prevention and control.


Assessment Process:

In September and October, public hearings were held at OAS headquarters to consider whether the situation in Venezuela meets the requirements of Article 53.1.a through 53.1.c of the Rome Statute for initiation of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Additional hearings will be held on November 16, 2017.

The following matters will be discussed at the hearings: 

The information obtained through the public hearings and by the investigation team will be received and reviewed by the Independent Panel of International Expert.  The General Secretariat will produce a final report that will be reviewed by the Independent Panel, and they will make a recommendation to the Secretary General on whether this information merits a recommendation to the ICC for further independent criminal investigation.

Reference: S-027/17