Vladimir Putin and Nicolás Maduro: the paths that cross in The Hague

Nicolás Maduro and Vladimir Putin are being investigated for crimes against humanity in Venezuela and Ukraine, respectively (REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria) (LEONARDO FERNANDEZ VILORIA/)

The reasons are the same. The context, different. These days Vladimir Putin and Nicolás Maduro are in the magnifying glass of international justice. Since last February 24, the Russian president has been carrying out a brutal and bloody invasion of Ukraine, while the Venezuelan dictator remains in power under a broad scheme of repression and persecution. The balance of both cases is similar: thousands of deaths, and millions of refugees and displaced persons. This makes the paths of Putin and Maduro cross in the same direction: The Hague, seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The office of Karim Khanthe ICC prosecutor, joined the joint team made up of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, and coordinated by Eurojust, on April 25 to collect evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed on Ukrainian territory.

The joint investigation team (JIT) was created on March 25 to facilitate investigations in the face of possible trials held in the States involved, as well as the judicial process that the ICC could open in the future in the event that they meet. enough evidence to prove the commission of crimes in its jurisdiction and to be able to arrest the suspects and transfer them to The Hague, essential conditions to start a trial.

Khan and the attorneys general of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement on the participation of the ICC prosecution service in the JIT, in which they underlined that they will “all efforts to effectively collect evidence on major international crimes committed in Ukraine and bring those responsible to justice.”

The prosecutor of the Criminal Court opened an investigation into the brutal invasion of Ukraine in early March after a referral of the case by 39 states. Since then, his investigators have been collecting evidence on the alleged commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, while attacks by Putin’s troops against the civilian population continue.

The international court of justice investigates crimes against humanity committed in the context of “a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population.” These include murder, extermination, forced transfer, torture, rape and sexual slavery. All accusations that weigh on the Russian soldiers in these three months of invasion.

From February 24 to May 20, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) counted 3,838 civilian deaths, but warned that the figure could be higher. As detailed by the agency, 1,454 men, 947 women, 89 girls and 98 boys died; as well as 69 children and 1,181 adults whose sex could not be identified. More than 4,000 civilians, meanwhile, would have been injured.

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On April 28, following an informal meeting of the Security Council, Khan warned that international law cannot be “a passive spectator” in the face of what is happening in Ukraine: “The truth does not have to be a ghost that cannot be caught. It grabs you by rolling up your sleeves, working, doing investigative efforts the old-fashioned way, using modern technology, taking advantage of technology, whether it’s satellite or radar or intercept, and combining it to see what appears to be true.”

“And ultimately, the great safeguard of international justice does not depend on any particular witness. It does not depend on a particular national prosecuting authority. It’s not up to me. There are judges above us, independent judges who will evaluate and weigh the evidence and ultimately make decisions,” he added.

The magnitude of the barbarities being perpetrated by Russian troops in Ukraine is such that the ICC is not the only body investigating possible war crimes. At par, The United States and 44 other countries are working together to investigate possible violations and abuses, after the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to establish an investigative commission. There are even nations that are also investigating on their own, such as the case of Germany.

As the investigations progress, Joe Biden lashed out at Putin, calling him a “war criminal.” Along these lines, the former war crimes prosecutor carla del pontewho, in addition to considering Putin also a “war criminal”, asked the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant against him.

In these three months of invasion, the West, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, exerted a profound international isolation that is already beginning to be felt on Russian soil. However, Putin still has some allies. One of them is the Venezuelan dictator Maduro, who, unlike Putin, already has a formal ICC investigation against him.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan visited the Ukrainian city of Bucha, where Russian troops carried out a brutal massacre of civilians (REUTERS/Volodymyr Petrov)
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan visited the Ukrainian city of Bucha, where Russian troops carried out a brutal slaughter of civilians (REUTERS / Volodymyr Petrov) (VOLODYMYR PETROV /)

At the end of March, during his visit to Caracas, Karim Khan announced that the ICC will open an office in Venezuelaafter last November it decided to open an investigation into the Caribbean country to determine whether crimes against humanity had occurred, as denounced by the opposition and various non-governmental organizations, and despite all the efforts of the Chavista regime to delay the process in the international court.

The International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation in 2018 for the action of the regime’s security forces in the repression of the massive protests against Maduro a year earlier, in which some 100 people died.

Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda, had already established that there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity were committed and spoke of an “inaction” by the Venezuelan authorities to investigate them. But Khan’s decision leaves behind the term “preliminary” and makes the process really and dramatically worrying for the regime and its leaders.

The Court of The Hague does not only target Maduro, what it is investigating is a systematic plan ordered by the dictator but executed by a group of his officials with decision-making positions in key dependencies of the Venezuelan state: Ministers of the National Executive, commanders of the Bolivarian National Police, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), the Special Action Forces (FAES), the Scientific Investigations Corps, Criminal and Criminalistics (CICPC), the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), the National Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command (CONAS), and other units of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).

The ICC investigation also points to the paramilitary militias at the service of the dictatorship, known as “colectivos”, which, according to the court report, acted “together with members of the security forces or with their consent”. “In relation to the presumed role of the mentioned actors, “the potential case(s) identified by the Prosecutor’s Office would not be limited to these persons or groups of persons and an attempt would be made to examine the presumed responsibility of those who appear to be those most responsible for such crimes.

The International Criminal Court will investigate crimes against humanity in Venezuela
The ICC has launched a formal investigation against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro for human rights violations in Venezuela, and is collecting evidence on possible war crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine.

Political persecution is also included in the report prepared by former prosecutor Bensouda, who indicated that “available information indicates that individuals in favor of the government also participated in the repression of opponents of the Government of Venezuela, or people perceived as such, mainly acting together with members of the security forces or with their consent”.

The report also clarifies that the information collected does not exclude other potential crimes committed in the Caribbean country, but rather that its role is to establish “if the threshold required to open investigations has been met.”

The fact that Maduro accepted the installation of an office in Caracas does not respond to a show of will for justice to be done in Venezuela. Unlike Russia, the Caribbean country ratified the Rome Statute that gave rise to the ICC. This leads the regime to have to cooperate with the investigation.

Despite reinforcing ties between their countries and vindicating their efforts, Putin and Maduro know that their paths could cross in The Hague. The ICC’s maximum sentence is 30 years in prison, but in exceptional circumstances it can hand down a life sentence.

Keep reading:

5 keys to understand why Vladimir Putin’s criminal responsibility in Ukraine is indisputable

War crimes: the Ukrainian Justice sentenced the Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin to life in prison for the murder of a civilian