ICC staves off Africa-led re­bel­lion, eyes new HQ

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

THE HAGUE: The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court staved off a veiled African-led threat to quit the world’s only per­ma­nent war crimes court, but ex­perts say that has come at the ex­pense of jus­tice for the vic­tims of mass atroc­i­ties. Ten­sions flared last week at the nine-day As­sem­bly of States Par­ties (ASP) over Kenya, which is em­broiled in a bit­ter tus­sle with the ICC over ef­forts to pros­e­cute its two top lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto.

As del­e­gates pack their bags, the court is now turn­ing its at­ten­tion to mov­ing into its new per­ma­nent premises on the other side of The Hague, only steps away from the de­ten­tion cells where de­fen­dants are held. “This meet­ing... has left a lot of peo­ple dis­ap­pointed,” said Janet An­der­son, writ­ing on the Jus­tice Hub web­site.

“Much of the de­bate and dis­cus­sion was about ef­forts by the Kenyan del­e­ga­tion to get the ASP to dis­cuss and agree on a rule con­cern­ing us­ing wit­ness tes­ti­mony,” she said. “Shouldn’t the meet­ing be about more than that, about the vic­tims who need jus­tice and about get­ting the court to run well?” she asked. The Keny­atta case col­lapsed late last year, and Kenya this week re­newed calls to drop charges against Ruto stem­ming from 2007-08 post-elec­tion violence, which left some 1,200 peo­ple dead.

In a tense week at the ICC an­nual con­fer­ence, the African Union also ac­cused the ICC of un­fairly tar­get­ing the con­ti­nent, warn­ing that Africa’s “com­mon re­solve should not be tested.” Del­e­gates even­tu­ally in­tro­duced an 11th-hour agree­ment on Thurs­day reaf­firm­ing the rule, but ex­perts said Kenya’s ef­forts dom­i­nated the con­ver­sa­tion to the detri­ment of other is­sues, par­tic­u­larly vic­tims of mass atroc­ity crimes.

The Coali­tion for the ICC said the days of brinkman­ship had “set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent for the court’s in­de­pen­dence”. “Us­ing un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions of an anti-Africa bias at the ICC and threats to with­draw from the Rome Statute, the Kenyan gov­ern­ment has sought to gain con­ces­sions from this as­sem­bly to put pres­sure on the de­ci­sion-making of in­de­pen­dent ICC judges,” said the coali­tion’s Wil­liam Pace.

‘Ob­scure the real vic­tims’

Ruto is ac­cused of crimes against hu­man­ity for his role in the post-elec­tion violence, the worst un­rest since in­de­pen­dence in 1963. Nairobi lob­bied in­tensely for the as­sem­bly to pub­licly re­state a rule that re­canted tes­ti­monies can­not be used in cases which are al­ready be­fore the courts.

The ICC pros­e­cu­tor Fa­tou Ben­souda has been al­lowed by judges to use such tes­ti­monies in the case against Ruto-a rul­ing which his lawyers are cur­rently ap­peal­ing. “We should not be sur­prised by the ef­forts we’ve seen, par­tic­u­larly by the gov­ern­ment of Kenya, to dis­credit the court’s work and to ob­scure the real vic­tims-thou­sands of Kenyans who have yet to see any jus­tice,” Hu­man Rights Watch se­nior le­gal ex­pert El­iz­a­beth Even­son said. “The sad­dest part of this or­deal... #Kenya con­vinc­ing the world prob­lem was (with the) #ICC while jus­tice for #PEV (post-elec­tion violence) be­came ir­rel­e­vant,” in­ter­na­tional law ex­pert Mark Ker­sten added in a tweet.

Of­fi­cials from the court, which be­gan work in 2002, are now try­ing to put the ten­sions be­hind them. On Novem­ber 12 court of­fi­cials for­mally re­ceived their new premises over­look­ing the dunes and the North Sea in a sea­side sub­urb of the Hague. “We can now con­cen­trate on get­ting set­tled in,” an ICC of­fi­cial said. The first cases will be heard in Jan­uary­with the much-an­tic­i­pated trial of for­mer Ivory Coast pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo, due to open on Jan­uary 28. — AFP

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