The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Wednesday that it would begin a formal investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela during the regime of Nicolas Maduro. 

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan arrived in the Caribbean country on Monday. His arrival was marked by several demonstrations by those denouncing political arrests and human rights violations of detainees. 

During the last day of his stay in Caracas, Karim Khan determined in a memorandum of understanding signed by him and the Venezuelan president that he would open an investigation to establish “the truth of the facts” in Venezuela, according to Reuters.

“This decision … gives hope of justice to the hundreds of victims of the brutal repression by the Maduro regime,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, said in a message on Twitter, adding the investigation is the first in Latin American history.

“We respect his decision as a state, though we have made clear we do not share it,” said Maduro. “We have signed an agreement that does guarantee, in an effective way, cooperation, positive complementarity, mutual support, constructive dialogue to seek truth and justice.”

Venezuelan opposition, Juan Guaido celebrated the ICC decision and stated in a tweet:

“The formal opening of the investigation for crimes against humanity, by the International Criminal Court, vindicates the right to obtain justice that has been denied in Venezuela for the victims and their families,” Guaido said.

In addition, several human rights and opposition groups also applauded the ICC’s decision.

Vivanco said, “Not only does it provide hope to the many victims of Maduro’s government but it also is a reality check that Maduro himself could be held accountable for crimes committed by his security forces and others with total impunity in the name of the Bolivarian revolution.”

The ICC has kept open a preliminary examination of Venezuela that began in Feb. 2018, focusing on allegations of arbitrary detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by state police during protests against the Maduro regime in 2017.

Last December, former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concluded there was sufficient evidence that crimes had been committed and an investigation was appropriate.

The move to the investigation phase had been expected since June when prosecutor Khan took over.

According to the AP, Khan said his job is not about settling scores and asked that his office be left to do its work independently, without trying to politicize it,  

Venezuela is experiencing a humanitarian crisis that has been deepening in recent years due to Maduro’s authoritarian policies. 

The magnitude of the crisis, which led to food and medicine shortages, caused millions of Venezuelans to flee. However, many others are still suffering the devastating consequences of such policies. 

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