Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

UN court asked to probe Venezuela; leader defiant in speech

September 27, 2018 - 4:49 am

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Six nations made the unprecedented move Wednesday of asking the U.N.'s International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela for possible crimes against humanity, even as President Nicolas Maduro made an unexpected trip to the world body's headquarters to deliver a nearly hourlong speech declaring his nation "will never give in."

Maduro's speech at the General Assembly gathering of world leaders came hours after Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Canada formally asked the ICC to investigate Venezuela on a range of possible charges, from murder to torture and crimes against humanity.

"To remain indifferent or speculative in front of this reality could be perceived as being complicit with the regime. We are not going to be complicit," said Paraguayan Foreign Minister Andres Rodriguez Pedotti.

The six countries hope the move puts new pressure on Maduro to end the violence and conflict that have sent more than 2 million people fleeing and made Venezuela's inflation and homicide rates among the highest in the world.

Venezuelan officials have widely rejected international criticism, saying they're driven by imperialist forces led by the U.S. to justify launching an invasion. And Maduro sounded a defiant tone Wednesday night, complaining that Washington was attacking his country through sanctions and other means and strong-arming other countries into going along in a "fierce diplomatic offensive."

"(The U.S.) wants to continue just giving orders to the world as though the world were its own property," Maduro said. "Venezuela will never give in."

But at the same time, he said he was willing to talk with Trump.

Wednesday marked the first time that member countries have referred another country to the Netherlands-based U.N. court.

Canada was among nations referring Venezuela to the ICC, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seized the moment to defend the idea of global justice the court represents — the day after Trump attacked it in a stinging speech that challenged multilateral organizations.

Its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, already has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Venezuelan government forces since April 2017 "frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations," and abused some opposition members in detention.

It is now up to the prosecutor — who didn't immediately comment on the request — to decide what to do next. The six-country referral could broaden the scope of the ongoing preliminary probe to the more serious charges leveled at Venezuela on Wednesday and extend the time frame back to 2014.

Human Rights Watch was among those hailing the request, which was based on two reports: one by the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights that uncovered widespread extrajudicial executions and other violations, and another by an expert group designated by the Organization of American States that found reason to suspect 11 people, including Maduro, of crimes against humanity.

The request — announced on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly — also bolsters the idea that international bodies can hold corrupt or abusive leaders or governments responsible before their citizens.

In an address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump criticized what he called the "ideology of globalism" and said that as far as America is concerned, "the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority."

The ICC was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The court has 123 state parties that recognize its jurisdiction.

Trudeau steered clear of direct criticism of Trump and said Canada and the U.S. share concern about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. But he also made clear Canada's support for international cooperation to help developing nations "to build a more peaceful, equal and stable world."

"Because that's what Canadians expect: That we stand up not just for ourselves but for everyone," Trudeau said.

While more world leaders spoke at the General Assembly on Wednesday, most attention was still focused on Trump, whose brash behavior provoked laughter and headshakes from other leaders. He chaired a Security Council meeting on nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

With Trump listening, Bolivia's President Evo Morales accused his administration of meddling in Iran and Venezuela. If the U.S. upheld democracy, Morales said, "it would not have financed coup d'etats and supported dictators" or threatened democratically elected governments as it has in Venezuela with military intervention.

He also charged that the U.S. "could not care less about human rights or justice," citing its alleged promotion of the "use of torture" and separation of migrant parents and children who were put "in cages."

Trump used his Security Council podium to fire off tough words at Iran, saying that a government with Iran's track record "must never be allowed to obtain" a nuclear weapon.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal "a mistake," and said sooner or later that the United States will support it again — notably because so many other countries stand behind it.

Rouhani told a news conference that Iran doesn't want to go to war with U.S. forces anywhere in the Middle East, declaring: "We do not want to attack them. We do not wish to increase tensions."

Trump also made waves by accusing China of meddling in November elections in the United States. China denies any interference.

Other tension points included Russian interference abroad — with Britain's prime minister accusing Moscow of "blatantly" violating international norms, and Russia's foreign minister comparing British accusations to "kindergarten" nonsense.

The top diplomats of both Russia and the United States met Wednesday with North Korea's foreign minister — separately — amid mounting efforts to roll back North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

And Italy's populist leader struck at the heart of Europe's biggest problem, stressing the importance of "shared responsibility" among countries in dealing with migrants, days after Rome deepened its crackdown on those fleeing Africa, the Middle East and Asia for asylum or a better life.

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Claudia Torrens at the United Nations, Scott Smith in Caracas, Venezuela, and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

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