J Schilmoeller NAMIBIA – Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo of Rwanda blocked the U.N. Security Council from adopting a non-binding statement this week that would recommend the International Criminal Court (ICC) be part of the continent’s solution to resolving conflict and human rights issues. Following recent sexual assault allegations against an ICC official in the Democratic Republic of […]
NAMIBIA – Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo of Rwanda blocked the U.N. Security Council from adopting a non-binding statement this week that would recommend the International Criminal Court (ICC) be part of the continent’s solution to resolving conflict and human rights issues.
Following recent sexual assault allegations against an ICC official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the election of a president accused of crimes against humanity in Kenya, Rwanda’s latest opposition to the international justice organization has brought to surface concerns about the court’s African bias and neo-colonial tendencies.
Mushikiwabo, Council president for April, told reporters the ICC is “a court that is not practicing justice, but more politics. We believe that the time for Africa to be subjected to a wagging finger, punishing finger from the West, is over.”
“We do not believe that the International Criminal Court, as it operates today, fulfills a constructive role in preventing conflict,” said Mushikiwabo at the U.N. Security Council debate on conflict resolution in Africa on Monday.
“Rather than delivering justice and preventing impunity, the ICC has shown itself subject to political manipulation from outside conflict zones as well as between vying factions within them. We cannot therefore support an International Criminal Court that condemns crimes committed by some but not others, or imposes itself on democratic processes, or the will of sovereign people,” she added.
The ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, went into effect in 2002 and has since been ratified by 121 nations, not including Rwanda.
Mushikiwabo expressed similar frustration with the court last month after Rwandan-born warlord Bosco Ntaganda surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali to face trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity. Rwanda is accused of supporting Ntaganda’s M23 rebels in DR Congo, an allegation the government denies.
The ICC as a political tool for African leaders
Phil Ya Nangoloh, executive director and founder of Namibia’s National Human Rights Organization (NAMRIGHTS), told Mint Press News that “African leaders are using the ICC for political gain and not the other way around.”
According to the Namibian leader in human rights advocacy, “Rwanda is against the ICC for ulterior motives.” Ya Nangoloh believes Rwandan President Paul Kagame is liable for war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “which is exactly why he is against the ICC.”
Rwandan opposition parties pressured the ICC in August to open an investigation into Kagame’s alleged support for rebel groups in DRC, including the M23 group that seized the eastern capital Goma in November and is accused of using child soldiers.
“African regimes use the ICC to try their opposition, and when it backfires they complain,” said Ya Nangoloh, who believes Kenya is also opposed to the ICC for political reasons.
Newly-elected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are both scheduled to stand trial before the court for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the bloody aftermath of the county’s previous elections in 2007.
Post-election violence in 2007-2008 claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people and forced as many as 650,000 to flee their homes. Kenyatta and Ruto have both pledged to cooperate with the ICC investigation, but comments made at the president’s inauguration have human rights groups skeptical.
During his speech, President Kenyatta stressed “that no one country or group of countries should have control or monopoly on international institutions or the interpretation of international treaties.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni saluted Kenyan voters in his keynote address for their rejection of “blackmail” by the International Criminal Court and those seeking to abuse the institution for personal gain.
“I was one of those that supported the ICC because I abhor impunity,” Museveni said. “However, the usual opinionated and arrogant actors using their careless analysis have distorted the purpose of that institution.”
Museveni himself referred Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony to the ICC in 2004. Kony is infamous for ruling the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an opposition Christian fundamentalist militia accused of mass human rights violations — including the use of child soldiers — across much of Uganda, DRC, Central Africa and surrounding areas. Museveni claims he only referred Kony to the ICC because the LRA was operating outside of Uganda.
Elizabeth Evenson, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said “the claim that the ICC is a stalking horse for the west ignored the horrific crimes committed in Kenya.”
Evenson, who works for HRW’s International Justice Program, believes the international community must stand in solidarity with the victims of Kenya’s election violence and pressure the new government to follow through on its ICC obligations.
An Africa-only court?
Critics of the ICC say the court is putting Africa on trial. David Bosco, an assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service, asked in a Washington Post opinion piece last month, “Why is the International Criminal Court only picking on Africa?”
According to Bosco, for an institution with a global mission and an international staff, the court’s focus has been disproportionately on Africa.
Since its inception more than a decade ago, all eight of the court’s investigations have been opened in Africa. The 18 cases opened by the ICC have also been targeted at Africans.
An opinion piece in the Namibian last week called the ICC “a Western tool to re-colonize Africa,” claiming the indictment of only Africans is a “sickening hypocrisy and double standard” for the court.
Ya Nangoloh of NAMRIGHTS, however, adamantly believes the ICC is not a colonial tool and that the court is not necessarily hypocritical for omitting cases against western nations.
“It is true that all perpetrators indicted at the ICC are from Africa,” Ya Nangoloh said. “However, they were all referred by African regimes themselves,” except for Sudan and Libya, he added.
Four state parties to the ICC — Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali — have referred situations for investigation to the court. Sudan and Libya, non-members of the ICC, had their investigations referred to the ICC by the U.N. Security Council.
Ya Nangoloh told Mint Press News that if a country is willing or able to try war criminals nationally for crimes against humanity, then there is no need to make a referral to the ICC; if the United States feels more comfortable trying criminals domestically, he believes they are able to do so.
Yet critics maintain that the absence of the United States and two other permanent U.N. Security Council Members on the ICC state party list has led to a court offering a “victor’s justice.”
“The obvious problem is that the court will investigate small and medium fish because the big fish come from big countries,” said Adam Hochschild, a leading expert on the DRC. “The U.S. will not be in court for its endorsement of torture in the Iraq War, or Russia for the war in Chechnya, or China for its actions in Tibet.”
Despite the criticism, Ya Nangoloh believes there is still a place for the ICC in Africa. “There are so many war crimes being committed daily with impunity. Perpetrators must know there are consequences,” he said.
For now, 34 African nations on the ICC state party list seem to agree — making Africa the region with the highest number of members worldwide. Just don’t expect to see the other half of African nations joining that list anytime, too; countries, including Rwanda, are dead set on opposing the “colonial” justice system in place.