The Organization of American States (OAS) held the first in a series of public sessions today exploring the possibility that Maduro regime officials have committed crimes against humanity primarily through the brutal repression of anti-government protests that left at least 135 dead over the summer.
The sessions are expected to last several days and will hear testimony from Venezuelans who have been victimized by the Maduro regime. Luis Moreno Ocampo, who was the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) from 2003 to 2012, will oversee the sessions.
Today’s session involved recording testimony from three individuals–Tamara Suju, Francisco Marquez and Jhoanna Aguierra–who each spoke on their personal knowledge of regime abuses.
Tomorrow’s session is scheduled to involve testimony from former Venezuelan army members, including two recently retired generals.
Ocampo stated yesterday that the purpose of the sessions was not to establish whether or not the Maduro regime is guilty of committing crimes against humanity: rather, the purpose is to determine “whether there is a reasonable basis to open an investigation” into the allegations.
Sessions Could Result in Venezuela Case Reference to ICC
According to El Nacional, if the OAS believes that there is in fact a “reasonable basis” to believe that Maduro regime officials have committed crimes against humanity, the sessions could trigger a formal investigation by the ICC in The Hague.
Luis Moreno Ocampo explained that after the sessions end next month, a panel of three as-of-yet unnamed experts will pour over the evidence and make a final recommendation on whether or not to reference the case to the ICC. If the report recommends that the ICC investigate the allegations, then all that would be needed for the investigation to begin would be for a single country that is both a signatory to Rome Statute and a member of the OAS to make the request.
Ocampo: Sessions “Unprecedented”
Speaking to reporters about the nature of the sessions exploring the possibility of crimes against humanity having been committed in Venezuela, Luis Moreno Ocampo called the initiative “unprecedented”.
Ocampo explained that because the OAS had never undertaken such a task, there was a considerable level of discussion inside the organization before the decision was taken to move ahead with the sessions. Ocampo explained:
Last week, we had a meeting with [some] ambassadors and we discussed the issue. The secretary general [Luis Almagro] explained that he had the ability [to propose the sessions].
Trio of Witnesses Speak on Regime Horrors
Today’s session at the OAs featured testimony from lawyer and human rights activity Tamara Suju, who testified that there have been 289 documented cases of torture committed by regime officials against individuals arrested during protests. Suju pointed out that some of the cases involve individuals being sexually abused and being forced to eat feces by their captors.
Suju also provided statistics involving the torture cases, 223 of which involve men and 66 women. The vast majority of alleged torture victims, 79%, were between the ages of 18-30, while the remaining 11% were aged 31-40. Suju also pointed out that 280 of the cases involve beatings, while 192 involved “sexual torture”.
On the breadth of the types of torture that arrested individuals claim to have been subjected to, Suju said that 23 people became the victims of “white torture”, which involved being imprisoned under nightmarish conditions. Suju explained:
They did not breathe fresh air. The temperature [in the cells] were below 18 degrees celcius. There is a jail called “La Tumba” [The Tomb] that is five stories underground. The only sound that [people held in La Tumba] could hear was the sound made by the Caracas subway [trains]. They could tell that it was night time when they stopped hearing [the trains] passing overhead.
Another witness, former political prisoner Francisco Marquez, said at today’s hearing that he was arrested alongside a fellow Voluntad Popular (VP) member by National Guard soldiers in June of last year. The two were carrying pamphlets calling for the release of imprisoned VP leader Leopoldo Lopez. Marquez was imprisoned for four months, and described his time in jail in the following way:
I was inside a putrid dungeon that was constantly full of mosquitoes. I caught dengue, and had a limited amount of food. They shaved me and forced me to scream the slogan, “Chavez vive! La lucha sigue!” [Chavez lives! The fight goes on!]. They stripped me naked and recorded videos of me. They did everything possible to humiliate me.
Marquez placed the blame for his torture squarely on the shoulders of the Maduro regime’s political police: the SEBIN. He singled out two high-level SEBIN officials–Carlos Calderon and Rony Gonzalez–has the main culprits, and lamented the fact that “the ones who torture the most are rewarded” by the Maduro regime.
During her emotional testimony, Aguierra was asked by Ocampo why her husband was filming the protest. Aguierra responded:
Alejandro was a man who loved liberty.
David Smolansky Flees Venezuela
The opposition mayor of El Hatillo, David Smolansky, has fled regime persecution in Venezuela and is now taking refuge somewhere in Brazil. Smolansky becomes the latest in a growing number of dissident voices to escape Venezuela as the Maduro regime resorts to increasingly dictatorial measures in order to remain in power.
As the popular mayor of the El Hatillo municipality of Caracas, Smolansky is a leading opposition voice and a member of the Voluntad Popular (VP) party. He was removed from power and sentenced to 15 months in prison by Venezuela’s top court on August 10 for stopping anti-government protests from taking place in El Hatillo.
Smolansky announced his escape in a YouTube video published last night, which you can see below along with my translation:
David Smolansky: To the Venezuelan people and my beloved neighbours of El Hatillo: good evening. I’ve been underground for the past 35 days, ever since that infamous ruling removed me from the position to which I was elected and that banned me from holding office and ordered my arrest for 15 months in El Helicoide [the SEBIN prison in Caracas].
Over these past 35 days, they have been looking for me. They have set up checkpoints; my staff, relatives and other civil servants have been harassed, threatened, and the director of citizen security [of El Hatillo] was even kidnapped for a few hours. On top of that, they have economically chocked the El Hatillo municipality.
Security forces are under orders to find me wherever I am so that I can be sent to El Helicoide. Despite this, I have resisted for the past 35 days, and I have traveled hundreds of kilomters throughout Venezuela. I speak to you today on the first day of my exile. Exile is not a new thing for the Smolanskys. My grandparents fled communism in the Soviet Union; my father fled communism in Cuba, and now it is my turn to do the same in Venezuela.
I want to send a clear message to Nicolas Maduro and all of the corrupt regime officials: I will return to Venezuela, and I will not be the only one. The one and a half million Venezuelans who have migrated against their will due to scarcity, inflation, unemployment and insecurity [will also return]. I want to tell Nicolas Maduro that, after working effectively and transparently from the El Hatillo municipality–after saying three years ago that [the municipality] would fail and is instead today an example for the country–is wrong again by expelling me from Venezuela. I will not rest until he is removed from power, along with his accomplices who have destroyed Venezuela.
I will work with others who have been exiled from Venezuela so that we can have liberty, security, justice and democracy in Venezuela. I place myself at the service of those 1.5 million Venezuelans scattered around the world so that we can organize ourselves and put the bright minds of so many talented youth can return to Venezuela tomorrow and take a leading role in the reconstruction of the country that we all deserve.
To the Venezuelan people and my El Hatillo neighbours: believe me when I say that I remain committed to our country, and that I will continue to serve you.
May God protect Venezuela.
While Smolansky did not announce the name of the country to which he had fled in the video, Spain’s EFE reported that the mayor was taking refuge somewhere in Brazil. The news was confirmed later in the day by one of Smolansky’s lawyers, Fernando Tiburcio, who said:
Smolansky is in Brasilia, and he will meet today with foreign affairs minister [Aloysio] Nunes.
Smolansky is not the first opposition mayor in recent times to be forced out of the country by the regime’s political persecution. The mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, Ramon Muchacho, fled the country under similar conditions some time in late September or early August.
Aside from Smolansky, at least 10 other opposition mayors have been persecuted this year by the TSJ under the pretext that they did not eliminate anti-government protests in their respective municipalities.
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