Venezuela and the rise in extrajudicial executions

The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into several deaths caused by the security forces in the poorest areas of Venezuelan neighbourhoods
An opposition protester is hit by a vehicle of the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB) on a street near the Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base "La Carlota" in Caracas, Venezuela.

REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO  -   An opposition protester is hit by a vehicle of the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB) on a street near the Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base "La Carlota" in Caracas, Venezuela

Venezuela is one of the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, most of these attacks are due to the use of firearms. Many of the weapons come from the illegal market, from private individuals, and also from the State Security Forces. Venezuela is currently experiencing economic problems and a major political crisis, in addition to the first investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a Latin American country, which began at the end of 2021. 

During the government of Nicolás Maduro, successor to Hugo Chávez, there were many irregularities, especially in 2017, which was marked by social protests, food shortages and rising inflation, and experts speak of alleged crimes against humanity. Likewise, in 2015, the creation of the People's Liberation Operations (OLP) took place, made up of various state security organisations and with the aim of arresting alleged criminals in the poorest neighbourhoods of the country. This represents the origin of today's violence and increased involvement of the security forces, although this discontent has been going on since the Caracazo of 1989. Numerous reports by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have condemned all the events.  

Miembros del Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas y Penales de Venezuela (CICPC) patrullan cerca de un puesto de control en San Antonio, Táchira, Venezuela
AFP/GEORGE CASTELLANOS - Members of Venezuela's Scientific and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) patrol near a checkpoint in San Antonio, Táchira, Venezuela.

In 2018, Venezuela began to be part of the ICC, in the same year, in November, a preliminary examination was initiated by the international court to analyse the situation in the country. In that report, it was determined that the crimes were not being investigated by the Venezuelan justice system. Therefore, in 2021, a formal investigation was initiated by the ICC to study the alleged crimes against humanity such as forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

According to International Humanitarian Law, extrajudicial executions are killings committed by state officials, without any judicial backing, also referred to as extralegal. Therefore, such executions are a case of violation of human rights under the Rome Statute. Between 2016 and 2021, the NGO Cofavic, created in the wake of the Caracazo, stated that there were a total of 9,211 extrajudicial cases, which is why the 27 extrajudicial executions that have taken place in the first 18 days of the year have set off alarm bells. The NGO Cofavic has created a profile of the victims, 80% are individuals under 25 years of age, 99% of the individuals belong to vulnerable sectors of the population and 80% of the individuals have received threats for having denounced the situation they are living in. 

Miembros del Servicio de Inteligencia de Venezuela (SEBIN)
PHOTO/REUTERS - Members of the Venezuelan Intelligence Service (SEBIN)

Extrajudicial executions are marked by a highly disproportionate use of force and follow systematic patterns, as stated by Cofavic's director, Liliana Ortega. The right to life and the right to integrity in the poorest areas of Venezuela is being endangered against a certain population through systematised attacks. Therefore, most of the crimes committed can be considered crimes against humanity and all those responsible must be tried under international law, but above all under international humanitarian law.

Venezuela, having ratified the Rome Statute, must cooperate with the ICC throughout the investigation, which will follow the principle of complementarity, i.e. the investigation will be effective if the country cooperates with the international court to bring justice to the victims and the victims' families, thus avoiding impunity. In addition to the intervention of the ICC and the NGO Cofavic, the United Nations is very present on the ground during the evaluations. In September last year, the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office told the UN Human Rights Committee that it had opened more than 4,000 investigations into extrajudicial executions, with 731 officials arrested and 118 convicted. 

El presidente de Venezuela Nicolás Maduro, a la derecha
PHOTO/AP - Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, right, on the right

At the end of 2021, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence published a report in which they reflected that there are six deaths per day of those who resist authority. In light of this, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence and different civil organisations have warned of the increase in deaths due to resistance to authority and, therefore, of extrajudicial executions. 

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.