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INTERNATIONAL Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan has arrived in Venezuela as part of a three-day tour where he will be investigating allegations of crimes against humanity.
He arrived in the capital Caracas on Sunday at the invitation of the Bolivarian government and will meet officials and NGOs for the initial part of his probe into the allegations.
The investigations were triggered after Colombia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay and Canada filed charges last November.
It came after a fact-finding team accused President Nicolas Maduro of presiding over “politically motivated detention and torture” carried out by state intelligence agencies.
But Venezuelan authorities have scotched such claims, reminding investigators that Venezuela has been subjected to numerous violent attempts to overthrow the government, backed by the United States.
Many of those detained have been charged with serious offences, including violent insurrection and plots to assassinate Mr Maduro.
It is believed that Mr Khan will also discuss similar charges brought by the Venezuelan government in response to punitive sanctions imposed on the South American country by the United States.
The complaint was sent to The Hague in February, accusing Washington of preventing Venezuela from accessing food and medicines on global markets.
UN human rights experts have called for the sanctions to be lifted, describing them in September as a “punishment” that targets innocent civilians.
They said that their imposition could amount to “crimes against humanity.”
According to the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research, 40,000 Venezuelans died as a result of sanctions in 2017-18 alone.
“We have the right, obligation and responsibility to protect our people, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter,” the Bolivarian nation’s former foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said.
Venezuela has long been targeted by the US. In 2015, then president Barack Obama issued an executive order labelling the country “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Washington recognises opposition politician Juan Guaido as the official leader of Venezuela, despite him holding no elected office and never having run for president.
But his various attempts to oust Mr Maduro have failed.
Regional elections planned to take place later this month, and will be contested by opposition parties which boycotted the 2018 and 2020 presidential and parliamentary votes.
European Union observers are in the country and will monitor the polls for the first time in 15 years.
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