We Are Failing The International Criminal Court


X millions of people were murdered in their home countries by their own armies, militias, police, political thugs or mere fellow citizens riled to riotous actions. Women and children bore the worst of the suffering through displacement, property loss, rape and kidnappings for soldiering, sale and sex slavery. Many, including forcibly effeminated men, have been mutilated,dismembered and sometimes, their lifeless bodies thrown into the limited water resources, deliberately to spread disease and starvation. This is our world…candidly.

If the barbarity makes a 2 minute spot on the evening news, we spectate, shake our heads in disbelief and resign to inaction. To be cognitively comfortable though, we have to create internal narratives. Some are heartless. Some are ugly. Some just plain, ordinary silly.

Doubtless, human history has never been pretty; the unpalatable truth is that we have not changed that much. Only the roles and observers are altered as whose turn it is to bleed, to wail and bury comes around. It is blatantly exigent that we do better. If an appeal to conscience does not stir what’s left of our souls, surely the fact that we have Leviathan, ready at hand, to poison or fry us all in one day, ought to be a fearsome motivator.

x millions of lives were lost in WW1. Shocked into preventing a repeat we strove for amity through the League of Nations. Just twenty years later we discarded that organisation and clubbed our foes mightily. That was WW2. Then came the United Nations paralysis, alliances, pacts and what have you. Meanwhile, we have numerous wars, atrocities…sometimes reported. My own belief is that as long as we have five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, each with veto powers, we are condemned to eternal wars and early extinction. There is no right or wrong in that international body of puppeteers. Strategic and economic interests have paramountcy. We have one august international body left. The International Criminal Court which, in my opinion, is fast moving to irrelevancy through compromise and inconsistent support.

Founded in 1998 and based in The Hague, the ICC is a permanent tribunal mandated to prosecute individuals for (a) genocide (b) crimes against humanity and (c) war crimes. At this time the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute for crimes of military aggression. There are 122 signatory states the majority being African. The United States, Sudan and Israel have served notice that they no longer intend to be parties to the binding Rome Statute which underpins the ICC. Russia has signed but not ratified the treaty. China and India, along with 41 other countries decided not to play…at all.

The ICC has been tarnished by criticism that Africans are more likely than others to be brought before the court. Very true indeed. But does that mean accountability ends? There have been 8 prosecutions conducted by the ICC to date. All were from African countries. Some of the complaints originated from African states themselves. It is also true that Africa’s painful colonial history certainly plays into the common refrain of “tool of western imperialism” and the ingrained forbearance to publicly censure criminal leaders. On the other hand, many African countries have weak civil institutions, political cultures of first past the post elections compounded by strong ethnic identities. This is where structural change, with international help, needs to take place, in conjunction with prosecutions. Absent that, leaders will continue to abuse and murder their opponents with impunity.

Noteworthy, is the fact that Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto and Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta are both charged and required to appear before the ICC. They have asked for, and been granted, postponements for various reasons. President Omar al-Bashir is currently under the ICC indictment for genocide and war crimes perpetrated in Darfur.

At a recent African Union summit, the 54 member states tabled for serious consideration two very troubling resolutions, (a) that the AU states renege their commitment to the governing Rome Statute and (b) that heads of states must be immune from prosecution. Confronted with blistering criticism from Human Rights Watch, Senegal’s Justice Minister and others, the proponents shied away. Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laurette and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, not only expressed outrage, but started a petition with a goal of 1 million signatures. The outcry was sufficient to have them rethink their positions.

African leaders, all leaders, must eschew convenient arguments of victimhood and work arduously to protect the fundamental human rights of all citizens. The more developed world must regard Africa as countries and people, not merely places for resource acquisition or strategic pawns. The global shrinkage has moved all our neighbours closer. The catastrophes are no longer happening “over there”. Failure to act now may have consequences for each of us on the planet. We are fast approaching the point of destabilisation on a global scale. It is not too late, yet. The choice is ours.

By Leyland King