Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

AFRICA: Proving Ground For International Criminal Court?

Miriam Mannak

CAPE TOWN, Aug 20 2008 (IPS) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) is using Africa as a guinea pig, and is too selective when it comes to arresting, indicting and prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This was one of the opinions raised during a recent seminar in Cape Town organised by the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR).

Charles Villa-Vicencio questions the ICC's deterrent effect on human rights violations.  Credit:  Miriam Mannak/IPS

Charles Villa-Vicencio questions the ICC's deterrent effect on human rights violations. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

The CCR is a South Africa-based organization that aims to promote peace, justice and conflict resolution in Africa through training, policy development, research, and capacity building.

"It seems that the court is using Africa as a test case, to determine in what way international law can obtain more legitimacy on the ground in Africa," said Charles Villa-Vicencio.

"The ICC focuses on economically weak and politically vulnerable countries, and on nations that are not able or willing to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Many African countries fulfill these criteria."

Vlila-Vicencio, former executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation which aims to promote reconciliation, transitional justice, and democracy across the continent, said it is necessary to think critically not just about the purpose of ICC as an institution of justice, but also about the implications of the way it operates.

"We need to ask ourselves whether retribution is a sufficient deterrent to those who violate human rights. Is intervention by the ICC enough to stop crimes against humanity and war crimes in Africa and elsewhere in the world?"

The ICC was established in 1998 by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The tribunal, which is based in the Dutch capital, The Hague, opened in July 2002 after the ratification of the document by 60 countries. The ICC currently has 106 members, including 30 African countries.

Presently the ICC is dealing with various African cases presented to the court by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic – all signatories to the Rome Statute. Additionally, the Security Council of the United Nations has referred the situation in Darfur, though Sudan is not a member state.

Vincent Nmehielle, former Principal Defender of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, added that the ICC has a political agenda. "The court should hold all tyrants accountable, but this is not happening. So far, most of the indictees are African. The powerful –- the United States instance -– will never be put on trial," he says, referring to the fact that the U.S. government does not recognise the court. "Russia will probably not be tried for what is happening in Georgia. And the same counts for China."

Villa-Vicencio asserted that the indictment of tyrants is not necessarily the best course of action. The international community must think about the possible consequences of arresting perpetrators of crimes against humanity, he said.

"Should we prosecute Mugabe, despite (the possibility) this could increase the chance of further deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe, or should we give him the chance to walk off if this would contribute a more stabile peace situation?" he said. "I am not too much against the former if this will bring peace and stability to Zimbabwe."

Claudia Perdomo – acting spokesperson of the ICC – told IPS that the court is not using Africa as a guinea pig. "The ICC is not an experiment. The court is permanent, and is here to stay and does not treat any part of the world as a test case.

"The fact is that Africa played an incredible role in the establishment of the court," Perdomo added.

"The situations the ICC is investigating at the moment were put forward by the party states themselves, except for Darfur which was referred to the ICC by the UN's security council. It is therefore untrue that the court is only targeting Africa as the Office of the Prosecutor has publicly announced that his office is monitoring situations in other parts of the world, in Colombia for instance and Afghanistan."

According to Perdomo it is a misconception that individuals from countries that do not recognise the ICC, such as the United States, cannot be indicted. "If someone from a non-party state commits crimes against humanity within the territory of a party state, this person might be tried. It is possible."

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