The governments of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru sent a letter Wednesday to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking her to investigate the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro for crimes against humanity.
The foreign ministers of the six countries made a brief statement to the press at the UN headquarters, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, to announce the letter.
In Venezuela there are serious allegations of "arbitrary arrests, assassinations, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse, rape, flagrant attacks against due process", including some minors, said Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie.
If these complaints are proven, "they would clearly meet the standard of crimes against humanity," he said.
It is the first time that a group of nations has requested the intervention of the international tribunal in another country since the ICC was established in 2002.
The letter asks ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate the alleged crimes committed under Maduro's government since February 12, 2014 to "determine whether one or several persons should be accused," Peruvian Foreign Minister Néstor Popolizio said.
Popolizio said that the situation in Venezuela "continues to deteriorate" and that "ways must be found to fight against impunity" in that country.
On what is the complaint based?
The request to the ICC is based on two "solid and conclusive" reports on the violation of human rights in Venezuela, one by the Organization of American States and another by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), explained Chilean Foreign Minister, Roberto Ampuero.
"Finding solutions to end the crisis in Venezuela is central to Canada's priorities (...) “There is a large and growing body of evidence that the Maduro regime has committed gross human rights violations against its own people," added Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland.
“Canadians stand firmly with the people of Venezuela as they struggle to protect their most basic rights and freedoms. The perpetrators of international crimes must face justice," she added.
What's next now?
In February, the ICC launched preliminary investigations into "alleged crimes" in Venezuela during demonstrations against Nicolás Maduro that took place in 2017 for more than four months and left about 125 dead.
The letter sent Wednesday by the member countries obliges the ICC to speed up that investigation and present its conclusions.
What could be the consequences for Maduro?
The ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and punish those most responsible for international crimes, including crimes against humanity or against human rights.
This court can issue international arrest warrants against those it considers may be responsible for the crimes investigated, regardless of whether they are heads of state, such as Maduro.
Those who are convicted of crimes against humanity during a trial can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.
Can the Venezuelan government do something to prevent it?
The Venezuelan government can still avoid direct ICC intervention if it investigates and prosecutes the alleged human rights violations. The Venezuelan government says it is investigating the alleged crimes, but human rights groups question the seriousness of that effort and point out that the judicial system in Venezuela has been corrupted by the ruling party.