This week Uhuru Keny­atta la­belled the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court as a racist, im­pe­ri­al­ist in­sti­tu­tion.

CityPress - - Careers & Voices -

UP IN FLAMES In this 2007 file photo, a sup­porter of Raila Odinga’s Orange Demo­cratic Move­ment holds up a ma­chete in front of a burn­ing bar­ri­cade dur­ing post-elec­tion vi­o­lence in Kenya

‘The ICC [In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court] has been re­duced to a painfully far­ci­cal pan­tomime, a trav­esty that adds in­sult to the in­jury of vic­tims. It stopped be­ing the home of jus­tice the day it be­came the toy of de­clin­ing im­pe­rial pow­ers.” Those were the words of Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta when he spoke at a spe­cial African Union sum­mit in Ad­dis Ababa a year ago. Speak­ing as the ICC was fi­nal­is­ing its case against him for his role in Kenya’s post-elec­tion vi­o­lence of 2007/08, Keny­atta en­cour­aged African lead­ers to aban­don the ICC be­cause of what seemed to be bias against the con­ti­nent.

He echoed the views of many who be­lieved the court un­fairly tar­geted Africans to the ex­clu­sion of other re­gions of the world. The crit­ics base this on the fact that most of the 30-odd peo­ple who have been in­dicted by the ICC are African.

To his credit, Keny­atta sub­mit­ted him­self to the au­thor­ity of the ICC, leav­ing his deputy, Wil­liam Ruto, to run the coun­try while he stood trial.

This was much bet­ter than Su­dan’s Omar al-Bashir who is, in ef­fect, on the run from the ICC and can­not set foot in any coun­try over which the court has ju­ris­dic­tion.

As Keny­atta ap­peared in The Hague this week, there was more anti-ICC noise from var­i­ous African quarters. It is an un­for­tu­nate de­bate as the ICC is strik­ing pow­er­ful blows on be­half of Africans who are be­ing ter­rorised by their lead­ers.

We need to re­move emo­tion from this de­bate and ap­pre­ci­ate the value of this in­sti­tu­tion.

Is the ICC re­ally a tool of Western pow­ers who want to use it to recolonise Africa by stealth? Is there va­lid­ity in the claim that the ICC pri­ori­tises African cases over cases from other parts of the world? Has any African leader faced trumped-up charges be­cause the ICC was fol­low­ing in­struc­tions from Wash­ing­ton, London or Paris?

Let the facts speak for them­selves. Out­side the Mid­dle East, Africa has been the site of the blood­i­est con­flicts of the past 12 years so it is only log­i­cal that it should re­ceive the at­ten­tion of the ICC, which came into op­er­a­tion in 2002.

Th­ese con­flicts have been char­ac­terised by the bru­tal slay­ings of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple. Of­ten, the in­sti­ga­tors of th­ese slay­ings are the lead­ers them­selves. It is there­fore log­i­cal that those ac­cused of crimes against hu­man­ity will come from the re­gion where most of th­ese are com­mit­ted.

One of those in­dicted by the ICC in­clude for­mer Liberian pres­i­dent Charles Tay­lor. He spon­sored the sav­age civil war in neigh­bour­ing Sierra Leone with the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary United Front pay­ing him in the form of blood di­a­monds. More than 50 000 peo­ple died in the 11-year war in which the chop­ping-off of vic­tims’ limbs was fash­ion­able.

In his own coun­try, Tay­lor’s war with the rebels who were try­ing to over­throw his cor­rupt and bru­tal regime cost 250 000 lives, most of them at the hands of his sol­diers.

Su­dan’s Omar al-Bashir presided over a re­lent­less para­mil­i­tary cam­paign that saw up to 400 000 peo­ple killed and more than 3 mil­lion dis­placed in the Dar­fur re­gion of the coun­try from 2003 to 2009. Al-Bashir’s mainly Arab mili­tia, known as the Jan­jaweed, took plea­sure in wreak­ing havoc in the pre­dom­i­nantly black re­gion. A world still reel­ing from the Rwan­dan geno­cide re­coiled in shock and dis­gust at the abil­ity of a gov­ern­ment to in­flict this kind of ter­ror on its own cit­i­zens.

Keny­atta, the man around whom the African elite is now ral­ly­ing, is ac­cused of abet­ting and fund­ing the post-elec­tion blood­shed in his coun­try in De­cem­ber 2007 and early 2008.

More than 1 200 peo­ple were killed in the orgy of vi­o­lence, which took on a dis­tinct eth­nic pat­tern. Another 600 000 were dis­placed. Kenya, whose fiveyear democ­racy was still tak­ing shape after the end of Daniel arap Moi’s 24year dic­ta­to­rial rule, still bears the scars of those weeks of mad­ness.

There are oth­ers who have al­legedly com­mit­ted gross of­fences in other parts of Africa and have been re­spon­si­ble for the ugly images of the con­ti­nent that get beamed around the world.

Now the crit­ics of the ICC would have us be­lieve that haul­ing peo­ple like th­ese be­fore a court of law to ac­count for their crimes con­sti­tutes an as­sault on the well­be­ing of the con­ti­nent. They ar­gue that be­cause we have not seen an equal num­ber of white faces in the dock means that the ICC is racist. That is truly warped think­ing.

Africans should be cel­e­brat­ing the fact that this in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tion, to which 34 of Africa’s coun­try’s are sig­na­to­ries, is pro­tect­ing the con­ti­nent’s peo­ple from monsters in their midst.

The only area where the ar­gu­ment car­ries some weight is when ques­tions are asked about the ab­sence of war­mon­gers like for­mer US pres­i­dent George W Bush and Is­rael’s Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu from the ICC’s tar­get range.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­spected Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal, the war in Iraq re­sulted in more than 600 000 vi­o­lent deaths. Bush, who used white lies to jus­tify go­ing to war, should bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for this. Ne­tanyahu and his pre­de­ces­sors in Is­rael’s top job should also be made to ac­count for the wan­ton killing and bru­tal­i­sa­tion of Pales­tini­ans over the years.

But this will not hap­pen to Bush and Ne­tanyahu be­cause their coun­tries are not sig­na­to­ries to the Rome Statute, in terms of which the ICC was es­tab­lished. This vol­un­tary na­ture of the ICC is a mas­sive weak­ness in the sys­tem and flies in the face of the univer­sal prin­ci­ple of equal­ity be­fore the law. It un­der­mines the cred­i­bil­ity of the sys­tem of in­ter­na­tional jus­tice and pro­vides am­mu­ni­tion to those who want to rally support against the court.

But this should not be an ex­cuse to al­low brutes to es­cape jus­tice.


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