Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will join five South American countries in calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro for crimes against humanity.
Trudeau called the situation in Venezuela “catastrophic” and says Canada will join Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru in signing a formal statement for the ICC to investigate.
“There is a humanitarian crisis going on in a country that used to be one of the most successful and prosperous countries in South America,” Trudeau said Tuesday at the United Nations. “The failure of leadership in Venezuela is of concern not just to us but to leaders in the regions — friends of Venezuela.”
Canada played a key role in creating the international court in the late 1990s, which prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It’s investigated atrocities committed during the civil wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, among others.
Trudeau said he has spoken with U.S. officials who share the same concerns about the devolving situation that has seen more than four million people flee the country amid hyperinflation, intensifying state repression and starvation.
“We are pleased to be joining with a broad number of other countries to continue to look for solutions to this including using the ICC,” the prime minister said.
The request from the five countries neighbouring Venezuela cites multiple alleged cases of human rights abuses and thousands of extrajudicial executions, according to Reuters.
It also follows a complaint from the Organization of American States against Venezuela based on a report released last May from three international experts, including Canadian Irwin Cotler.
The 400-page report details 8,292 extrajudicial executions, 131 killings of regime opponents and accuses Maduro’s regime of holding 1,300 political prisoners and the arbitrary detention of 12,000 citizens since 2013.
Both Canada and the U.S. have levied sanctions against the Maduro government over “illegitimate and anti-democratic elections” held earlier this year, which included freezing the assets of the officials and prohibiting Canadians from having property or financial dealings with them.
ICC under fire
Canada’s decision to call for an ICC investigation comes amid increased hostility towards the international body from U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton.
The ICC’s ability to investigate war crimes has been hampered by the U.S.’s refusal to ratify the Rome Statute – as 124 other states have – and become a member of the international legal body.
Speaking at the Federalist Club in Washington last week Bolton called the ICC illegitimate and threatened sanctions against the court, its judges and prosecutors if they ever pursue a case against America or Israel.
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“We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, to all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us,” Bolton said. “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly.”
Trump said Tuesday the U.S. will never support the institution.
“As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority,” Trump said speaking to the UN General Assembly. “The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”
However, in the same speech, Trump openly attacked the Maduro government calling the situation in Venezuela a “human tragedy.”
“More than two million people have fled the anguish inflicted by the socialist Maduro regime and its Cuban sponsors,” he said. “Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the richest countries on Earth. Today, socialism has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty.”
The sharp remarks from Trump and Bolton follow reports the ICC is looking to investigate the U.S. for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which could also include Canada.
— With files from Reuters