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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez investigated by the International Criminal Court

By Irma Alvarez, El Universal

After taking part in a meeting with Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo in The Hague, Venezuelan lawyer Juan Carlos Sosa is now more convinced the International Criminal Court has the historic opportunity to prevent crimes against humanity to continue happening, putting growing monsters like President Hugo Chávez behind bars. Irma Álvarez interviewed him. On January 19 lawyers and victims met with the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. According to Sosa, his colleagues and "the victims of the government" will not rest "until the President is convicted." Question.- What did the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ask the victims (of violent events in Caracas on April 11,2002)?

Answer.- He asked them how they felt and each of them talked about the pain they are still going through. Remember that Priscilla Salas is sitting on a wheel chair since December 6, 2002, Mohamad Merhi lost his 18-year-old son in the April 11, 2002, march, and Gladys Lovera was shot in one buttock. They asked for justice and an unbiased investigation. The Prosecutor may open an investigation and discover the truth on his own, because we are not the only party to offer evidences. The government will also have the opportunity to do so. Q.- As lawyers, what arguments did you present to the Prosecutor?

A.- Alfredo Ramos and I submitted a document explaining the situation in Venezuela and demonstrated that the crimes that are being committed here are not common ones but crimes against humanity. We focused on the systematic nature of the facts: the crimes are being committed against political dissidents, those who oppose the Bolivarian revolution. We mentioned the creation of the Bolivarian circles as para-state groups financed and indoctrinated by the government to attack the dissidents; we also spoke to him about the revolution as a political project. Q.- Some people say that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to examine the April 11 crimes.

A.- That was our second point. After the Court was constituted on July 1st (2002), crimes against humanity continued, but those committed before July 1st may not fall into a juridical limbo because they are the precedent and evidence of a crime chain headed by (President Hugo) Chávez. He is to blame for the April 11 killings and subsequent murders because he incited hatred based on political belief and he gave instructions to the Bolivarian Circles in his Hello, President! radio show. Events must be evaluated within their context, so that investigators get the right picture about the seriousness of these cases. Look how the Bolivarian Circles try to terrify the dissident population. That is a crime against humanity. The killings of April 11 2002 must be studied because the person that committed and continues to commit those crimes is still in power and is a growing monster. The importance of (an investigation by) the ICC is that it may prevent these historic massacres to happen again. Q.- The government argues that your group suffered a failure in Spain because Chávez was not tried there.

A.- Certainly, for political reasons, Spain decided no to try Chávez because he is an acting president. However, the (Spanish) State's Attorney and the magistrates of the Penal Court of Appeals have said that the lawsuit is well founded and that the case must sent to the ICC. That means that they presume it is impossible to do justice in Venezuela. They suggested opening an urgent investigation in the ICC. Q.- Did the Prosecutor listen to you?

A.- Yes. The fact that the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC interviewed us on January 19, 2004, is quite significant. The first victims ever to visit the Court were Venezuelans. Not only that, after a two-hour hearing, the Prosecutor himself, on his own, offered us a possibility. Q.- When are you filling the suit?

A.- We will do it, as a present to Venezuela, on April 11 this year. The evidence will leave room to no doubt that Venezuela is being ruled by a criminal government, and the main responsibility falls on President Chávez. Q.- Some law experts criticize your group and have predicted that your case will fail in the ICC.

A.- They say that it is impossible to try Chávez for crimes against humanity. We are pioneers in a juridical issue in which everything is being done for the first time. There are no established procedures, no jurisprudence. It is not true, for instance, that the crimes against humanity need to have been committed during a war. Some people confuse it with genocide. The truth is that the cases of crimes against humanity include political persecution. A group that might or might not be destroyed suffers all the damages. (In Venezuela) the purpose is to harm and annul the opposition.

Beside, under the Rome Statute, three instances may demand to open an investigation before the ICC: the Security Council of the United Nations, any state member of the Rome Statute and an Chief Prosecutor, who may act on his own initiative.

Translated by Edgardo Malaver

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