Venezuela Refers US Sanctions to ICC for Crimes Against Humanity

By: Henry Schall

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CARACAS, Venezuela – On February 13, 2020, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela filed a request with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  This request has the purpose of seeking an investigation of United States sanctions against Venezuela, calling the sanctions “crimes against humanity.”

The current crisis in Venezuela is due to economic collapse after President Maduro took power in 2013.  This collapse caused widespread shortages in basic food and supplies causing 4.5 million people to flee. 

Strong opposition parties emerged around Maduro within the National Assembly culminating in the 2018 election, where Maduro was reelected.  This election was widely dismissed as rigged, and fifty other countries recognize the National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful president. 

To pressure Maduro in hopes that he would step down, the United States imposed new sanctions in August 2019.  In a letter to Congress, President Trump wrote that the new sanctions were imposed due to the “continued usurpation of power by Nicolás Maduro and persons affiliated with him, as well as human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens.”

President Trump signed an executive order which declared all property or interests in property owned by the government of Venezuela in the United States as blocked which cannot be used.   The new sanctions bar any transactions with Venezuelan officials whose assets are blocked.  President Trump’s order states, “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.” 

These new sanctions expand pressure on Maduro by targeting his government, but also targeting individuals, companies, and countries doing business with the government.  The United States Security Advisor John Bolton said the new sanction could be imposed on any supporters of the Maduro government, since the sanctions would force countries and companies to choose between doing business with the United States or Venezuela.  Venezuela has long blamed the United States for the current economic crisis, but the sanctions do include exceptions for humanitarian goods, food and medicine.  

In a sixty-page brief, Venezuela referred the situation in accordance with Article 14 of the Rome Statute, declaring that the Unilateral Coercive Measures imposed impose negative impacts on the people in Venezuela.  Venezuela contends these sanctions contravene international law that prevent foreign intervention in internal affairs and have caused an enormous hardship for the people of Venezuela.  The brief further declares these sanctions as crimes against humanity, citing a study by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs which provides statistical evidence that sanctions amount to a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelan Citizens. 

On February 19, 2020, the Presidency of the ICC referred the situation in Venezuela to Pre-Trial Chamber III.  According to the ICC, a State Party referral does not automatically lead to an investigation, but it may speed up opening the investigation.  Now, the Prosecutor must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice in determining if an investigation should be opened. 

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Annex I to the Prosecution’s Provision of the Supporting Document of the Referral Submitted by the Government of Venezuela – 4 Mar. 2020

International Criminal Court – Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on the referral by Venezuela regarding the situation in its own territory – 17 Feb. 2020

BBC – Venezuela crisis in 300 words – 6 Jan. 2020

BBC – US imposes sweeping sanctions on Venezuelan government – 6 Aug. 2019

Author: Hannah Gabbard