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THE HAGUE, Feb 14, 2020, (Reuters) – Venezuela has asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate U.S. officials for what it called crimes against humanity resulting from sanctions imposed by Washington, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said.

The filing in The Hague by Caracas against its political rival Washington does not automatically lead to an investigation and the ICC does not hear cases between states.

The United States has targeted Caracas with sanctions and, like dozens of other countries, recognises opposition politician Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader.

In September 2018, a group of Latin American countries and Canada asked the ICC to investigate Venezuela’s government over allegations of crimes against humanity in using force to repress political opponents. That request is still under review.

Speaking to journalists in The Hague, Arreaza said Venezuela sets out its accusations in a 60-page brief to the court. It claims that the U.S. policy of sanctions has been “a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans per year.”

The ICC prosecutes individuals and the document did not name any U.S. officials, but Arreaza said determining who was responsible was a task for the prosecutor.

The U.S. embassy in The Hague declined immediate comment on Venezuela’s request to the ICC prosecutor.

The so-called referral was handed to ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda earlier on Thursday, Arreaza said, and was accompanied by a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

“Our government is seeking refuge with international law,” Arreaza said. “We are convinced the consequences of the unilateral measures (by the United States) constitute crimes against humanity against the civilian population.”

Venezuela said that as a member of the ICC alleged crimes on its territory fall within the jurisdiction of the world’s permanent war crimes court _ created to punish the most serious international atrocities, such as war crimes and genocide.

Asked why Venezuela had not filed its request against the countries that asked the ICC for an investigation in 2018 – Canada, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay – Arreaza said: “It is important to go after the boss of the circus, not the staff of the circus.”

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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