Venezuela’s leader makes defiant speech as six nations refer his country to UN criminal court

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Canada formally asked the ICC to investigate Venezuela on a range of possible charges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 11:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 8:02pm

Six nations made the unprecedented move of asking the UN’s International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela for possible crimes against humanity, even as President Nicolas Maduro made an unexpected trip to the world body’s headquarters to deliver a nearly hour-long speech declaring his nation “will never give in”.

Maduro’s speech Wednesday at the General Assembly gathering of world leaders came hours after Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Canada formally asked the ICC to investigate Venezuela on a range of possible charges, from murder to torture and crimes against humanity.

“To remain indifferent or speculative in front of this reality could be perceived as being complicit with the regime. We are not going to be complicit,” said Paraguayan Foreign Minister Andres Rodriguez Pedotti.

The six countries hope the move puts new pressure on Maduro to end the violence and conflict that have sent more than 2 million people fleeing and made Venezuela’s inflation and homicide rates among the highest in the world.

Venezuelan officials have widely rejected international criticism, saying they’re driven by imperialist forces led by the US to justify launching an invasion.

And Maduro sounded a defiant tone Wednesday night, complaining that Washington was attacking his country through sanctions and other means and strong-arming other countries into going along in a “fierce diplomatic offensive”.

“(The US) wants to continue just giving orders to the world as though the world were its own property,” Maduro said.

“Venezuela will never give in.”

But at the same time, he said he was willing to talk with US President Donald Trump, who hinted Wednesday at a military response to Venezuela.

“All options are on the table, every one – strong ones and the less than strong ones – and you know what I mean by strong,” Trump told reporters in New York.

Wednesday marked the first time that member countries have referred another country to the Netherlands-based UN court.

Canada was among nations referring Venezuela to the ICC, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seized the moment to defend the idea of global justice the court represents – the day after Trump attacked it in a stinging speech that challenged multilateral organisations.

Its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, already has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Venezuelan government forces since April 2017 “frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations,” and abused some opposition members in detention.

It is now up to the prosecutor – who didn’t immediately comment on the request – to decide what to do next.

The six-country referral could broaden the scope of the ongoing preliminary probe to the more serious charges levelled at Venezuela on Wednesday and extend the time frame back to 2014.

In an address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump criticised what he called the “ideology of globalism” and said that as far as America is concerned, “the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.”

The ICC was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The court has 123 state parties that recognise its jurisdiction.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse