The (not very) international criminal court

The ‘international system’, is a sham at worst and a front for Western interests at best. The UN Security Council imposes ‘democratic’ values and economic integration on the poorest countries in the world, along with its sidekicks the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These policies may provide some economic growth, but many countries in Africa are reliant on exports of natural resources, of which they have plentiful amounts, yet still they suffer widespread poverty, food insecurity, and lack of development.

The International Criminal Court (the ICC), an independent international organisation, could be described as the moral part of this international framework. Justice is one of the most important values, if not the most important, to uphold in the world today.  It must be applied equally to all countries for there to be any meaning in the term ‘international’ criminal court.  The African Union (AU) has criticised the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, for hounding exclusively African leaders, and claims that it is used as a tool to depose leaders who are out of favour with the West. The ICC claims to act only as a last resort, to try individuals for the most serious ‘crimes of international concern’. However, all but one of the current cases being prosecuted by the ICC are African, including Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Libya. This only gives credibility to the view that the ICC has an anti-Africa bias. Crimes mentioned in these cases often involve ‘crimes against humanity’ such as genocide or mass killing. It is difficult not to argue that leaders such as Tony Blair and George Bush have not committed similar crimes, however there has been no case brought to the court about them. In fact, the United States is not a state party to the Rome Statute, which originally set up the ICC.

The Kenyan parliament recently voted to leave the ICC in protest against its alleged unfair discrimination against African leaders. The trial of its Deputy President William Samoei Ruto is the first case where a sitting deputy president has been tried.  Later in the year, the President Uhuru Kenyatta will be tried in an unprecedented move against two sitting leaders in a country.  Radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang is accused of similar crimes. Concerns of harassment of victims already plague the Ruto case, so the first witness testified in a closed session where no one could see or identify her.

The African Union appealed to the ICC earlier this year to let the Kenyan government try the accused in its own courts. The court feels that the trial would not be fair, and seeing as two of the defendants are leaders of the country, it would be difficult not to speculate about corruption of the judiciary and manipulation of the case. Other African countries, such as Uganda, have also expressed concerns about the treatment of the Kenyan trials by the ICC, and China has urged the ICC to listen to them.  The Union will meet for a summit in October, when the countries present may decide to leave the ICC en masse in protest against the perceived discrimination of the ICC.  It is not yet clear whether a clear majority of two thirds would be reached in order to carry this out.

A mass boycott seems fair if it can be proved that the court is unfairly biased against African countries. Justice is necessary for those Kenyans affected by the atrocities committed in the elections, but justice will not be upheld by a biased organisation.  Leaving the ICC as a protest move equally undermines the international system, which, theoretically, aims to maintain security and to protect the rights of communities under authoritarian and dangerous rulers. The system is precarious as it stands; powerful countries such as the United States are external to certain agreements on international norms, and therefore the treaties and resolutions of the UN are weakened.  If other countries, in Africa or elsewhere, leave the ICC, not only will justice not be guaranteed under their own judicial systems, but the international system may split at the seams.

The stronger and richer countries around the world, particularly those who have signed up to the ICC and the Rome Statute, need to work on reforming the current International Criminal Court if this system is to be fixed. This will involve being prepared to put their own leaders on trial when they have committed crimes. If this can be achieved, African leaders will recognise that it is in their interests to be part of the international justice system, and it will be accepted as impartial and fair. When geopolitics are constantly changing, leaders are always aware of the threat to their influence in the world in the long-term, and building international consensus on issues such as human rights is one of the ways to increase that influence. In the short term, it is equally dangerous to a country’s reputation to opt out of international organisations aiming to uphold justice, as this will only be seen for what it is: practising one policy whilst preaching another. We must hold our governments to account and make sure they work to improve the ICC and international human rights, for the benefit of future generations around the world.

BY: Amanda Green