The International Criminal Court (ICC) is to investigate whether crimes against humanity were committed during Venezuela's crackdown on anti-government protests in 2017.
More than 100 people died when security forces cracked down on demonstrations, sparked by the arrests of several opposition leaders and the supreme court's decision to dissolve the opposition-dominated National Assembly.
After a preliminary evaluation, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan “has decided to move on to the next phase to seek the truth,” said the country's president Nicolas Maduro. “As a state, we respect his decision, although we do not share it.”
“I ask everyone, as we enter this new phase, to give my office space to do its work,” said Mr Khan.
The move was hailed by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has claimed since 2019 to be Venezuela's interim president, backed by around 60 countries.
Mr Guaido said on Twitter this move would enable the victims and their families to “claim the right to obtain justice that has been denied in Venezuela”.
When the ICC opened the preliminary investigation in 2018, Mr Khan's predecessor Fatou Bensouda said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe the government had committed crimes against humanity.
Mr Maduro complained that the Venezuelan state was not given access to the documents and information evaluated during that phase.
“We were blind in that stage,” said the president.
During Mr Khan's three-day visit, which began on Sunday, small groups of family members of the victims of the alleged rights abuses held street protests demanding an audience with him.
On Wednesday, there was also a small protest outside the intelligence services headquarters in Caracas, where opposition figures are being held.
“I'm fully aware of the flaws that exist in Venezuela, the political division. We (the ICC) are not political, we are guided by the principles of legality and the rule of law,” said Mr Khan.
Mr Khan and Mr Maduro signed an agreement to collaborate on the next step of the investigation.