Venezuela Committing Crimes Against Humanity, OAS Panel Says

(Bloomberg) -- A panel of experts enlisted by the Organization of American States accused the Venezuelan government under President Nicolas Maduro of committing crimes against humanity, setting the stage for a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court.

After spending months reviewing evidence and listening to witness testimonies, the experts said the socialist regime was involved in multiple murders and at least 12,000 cases of imprisonment and arbitrary detention. It also accused the authorities of torture, rape, political persecution and enforced disappearances.

Maduro’s administration has pursued a “massive assault on the rule of law in Venezuela,” the panel said in an over 400-page report published on Tuesday. Moreover, widespread attacks on the judiciary have prevented any “genuine legal proceedings to investigate the crimes against humanity.”

The experts recommended that the OAS General Secretary, Luis Almagro, submit the report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, which could trigger an investigation of Venezuela’s government by the international court.

“Frankly, I’ve never been as morally affected as I have by the cases of torture we have found” investigating this report, said Manuel Ventura Robles, one of the panelists and a former judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, at the OAS headquarters in Washington D.C. “Cases of torture against women, men, it’s all incomprehensible that this continues to occur in our continent.”’

The OAS, which includes the U.S., has become one of the most strident critics of Maduro’s administration, with Almagro demanding the international community isolate and punish a government it says has systematically trampled basic rights. Maduro won reelection earlier this month in a vote the Trump administration derided as a “sham” after the opposition’s biggest parties and most popular candidates were banned from the ballot.

The report could fuel calls for harsher sanctions on Maduro’s regime at a time when the economy is already reeling from hyperinflation and rampant shortages of food and medicines.

The panel of experts was composed of Ventura; Santiago Canton, Secretary of Human Rights of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice in Canada and President of the Center for Human Rights Raul Wallenberg.

The jurists heard testimonies from representatives of Venezuela’s opposition, family members of victims, plus active and former members of the armed forces and the judiciary in hearings held in September, October and November of last year.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.