Venezuela files ICC lawsuit over US sanctions

February 20, 2020
"Trump - lift the blockade on Venezuela!"

Venezuela set in motion legal proceedings on February 12 to have the United States government investigated at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Speaking at The Hague, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the potential lawsuit was aimed at Washington’s unilateral coercive measures, or sanctions, which he described as a “crime against humanity” and a “weapon of mass destruction”.

The request to open a preliminary investigation was received by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, whose team will now evaluate if there is a legal basis for a full inquiry. It is unclear, however, if the ICC will proceed given that the US is not a member of the body and the international court tends not to rule on inter-state disputes.

The ICC is currently carrying out a preliminary investigation into President Nicolas Maduro after Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and a handful of US-aligned governments filed a suit accusing him of crimes against humanity in September 2018.

Upon introducing a 60-page supporting document detailing the allegations against the US government last week, Arreaza urged ICC prosecutors to take the “historic” case as soon as possible, arguing that “the longer the action takes, the more suffering will be caused [by the sanctions regime], and more people will be affected”.

US sanctions against Venezuela formally began under then US President Barack Obama in 2015, and were greatly intensified by his successor, Donald Trump, who imposed economic sanctions in 2017.

In January 2019, Washington decreed a crippling oil embargo, as well as slapping direct sanctions against the country’s food import, gold, and banking sectors later in the year.

A sweeping ban on all dealings with Venezuelan state entities was announced last August, which paved the way for secondary sanctions against third parties. Most recently, the US unveiled sanctions against the Venezuelan state airline CONVIASA.

US allies, including right-leaning regional governments part of the Lima Group as well as the European Union, have also applied sanctions, but most have shown reluctance to directly target Venezuela’s economy.

The Venezuelan government has frequently denounced that the sanctions regime blocks the country’s free access to international markets and obstructs the import of vital goods such as food and medicine, exacerbating the socio-economic problems in the country.

In a press conference on February 15, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez claimed that sanctions have caused US$116 billion in losses for the nation.

While he did not offer further details, the minister equated it to what Venezuela would normally spend on all public and private sector imports over six years, the cost of 11 million social homes or running the subsidised CLAP food program for 152 years.

Last April, the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research released a report finding the sanctions constitute a form of “collective punishment” responsible for as many as 40,000 deaths in the country between 2017 and 2018. Shortly before the August general embargo, Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodriguez estimated that sanctions cost the country $16.9 billion per year, resulting in rising mortality rates.

Numerous multilateral bodies, including the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, have also condemned US sanctions as being illegal under international law.

[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis.]

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