Former member of Parliament and justice minister Irwin Cotler is one of three independent experts who will examine the evidence collected on possible crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela under the current regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
Cotler, who is founder and chair of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, was named by the Organization of American States (OAS), along with Manuel Ventura Robles, former judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and Santiago Canton, former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
OAS secretary general Luis Almagro said their task is to assess whether the situation in Venezuela should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The OAS is gathering information through a process that’s being supervised by former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo. The process includes public hearings conducted at OAS headquarters and a review of the information submitted by more than 50 organizations that have been researching the crisis in Venezuela.
The independent experts will evaluate the final report and make recommendations to the secretary general.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed Cotler’s appointment. “His global experience with regard to human rights and the rule of law … will be invaluable to the credibility and quality of this investigative process,” she stated.
“This initiative represents a critical contribution by the OAS to uphold justice and human rights for the people of Venezuela.”
Cotler told The CJN that, “The international experts panel is as timely as it is necessary. As Venezuela slides into dictatorship – as Minister Freeland has put it – and the human suffering of the Venezuelan people intensifies, the restoration of democracy and human rights while combating the culture of impunity is an overriding priority.”
Freeland said Canada is deeply concerned by “the grave violations of human rights” in that South American country, which were detailed in a report issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of August.
The report found extensive human rights abuses through the suppression of anti-government protests and political dissent, including 124 deaths linked to the protests, close to 2,000 injuries and mass arrests, including of children.
Cotler has particular expertise in human rights violations in Venezuela. Since 2014, he has been advocating for the release of Leopoldo Lopez, founder and leader of the opposition Voluntad Popular party, whom he describes as a political prisoner.
Lopez was imprisoned for his role in the pro-democracy movement in 2014 on trumped-up charges and since July, he has been under house arrest.