In recent years, South American courts have shown a penchant for extravagant use of the term ‘genocide’ at a time when international tribunals and other authoritative bodies have tended to confine the concept to the intentional physical destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Situations that don't meet the relatively strict definition of genocide are treated as crimes against humanity.
Earlier this week, Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe charged that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was committing genocide, and that he planned to denounce him to the International Criminal Court. To my knowledge, this is the first time one State has threatened to refer a situation againist another State.
George W. Bush, who is afraid to call the real genocide of the Armenians by its proper name, didn’t actually endorse the Colombian genocide charge, but he spoke with Uribe and said: ‘America will continue to stand with Colombia as it confronts violence and terror and fights drug trafficker.’ It seems that for the Americans this is a marvelous conjunction of two ‘wars’, against drugs and against terrorism. If Uribe wasn’t so shrill about drugs, I would be tempted to ask what he had been smoking when he accused Chávez of genocide.
The International Criminal Court has been hovering over the region for some time now. In February 2006, the Prosecutor responded to charges that had been submitted concerning Venezuela by indicating that none of them establisheda basis for prosecution before the Court. He also said: ‘the available information provides no reasonable basis to believe that genocide has been committed…’ See: http://www.icc-cpi.int/library/organs/otp/OTP_letter_to_senders_re_Venezuela_9_February_2006.pdf . As for Colombia, in November 2007 in his speech to the Assembly of States Parties the Prosecutor of the Court spoke of a visit he made to Colombia and confirmed, at least implicitly, that the Court is seriously considering opening an investigation in that country: http://www.icc-cpi.int/library/asp/Statement_Prosecutor_en_30Nov2007.pdf. Given the Prosecutor’s tendency to focus on rebel groups rather than governments, one would expect him to target the FARC rather than the very nasty pro-government militias. Certainly any proceedings aimed at those associated with the closest ally of the United States in the region seems unlikely, for obvious reasons.
The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over the territories of Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, in accordance with article 12 of the Rome Statute. The Prosecutor may commence an investigation on his own initiative in these countries pursuant to article 15. If Uribe makes a complaint against Chávez, the Prosecutor would be required to investigate, in accordance with article 14. Of course, he could decide not to proceed even if Venezuela were to file a charge, in accordance with article 53, something he would be wise to do under the circumstances.