A hand­cuffed ICC

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Abizarre drama that played out in South Africa this week un­der­scores just how dif­fi­cult it is to bring the world’s bad ac­tors to jus­tice. The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court at The Hague has is­sued two ar­rest war­rants ac­cus­ing Su­dan Pres­i­dent Omar Has­san Ahmed Bashir of war crimes, crimes against hu­man­ity and geno­cide dat­ing from his ac­tions a decade ago over­see­ing Su­dan’s geno­cide in Dar­fur. So on Mon­day, when Bashir was in South Africa — a sig­na­tory to the ICC — the coun­try’s High Court or­dered the gov­ern­ment to keep him from leav­ing while it con­sid­ered de­mands by hu­man rights groups that he be ar­rested on the ICC’s war­rants.

The gov­ern­ment in­sisted that Bashir, who was in the coun­try for a meet­ing of the African Union, en­joyed diplo­matic im­mu­nity. While it hag­gled with the hu­man rights groups in court, Bashir jet­ted back to Su­dan from a South African mil­i­tary base. The court ul­ti­mately ruled that he should have been ar­rested, and de­manded an ac­count­ing by the gov­ern­ment for why it ig­nored the court’s or­der.

The in­ci­dent in­volves re­gional African pol­i­tics and South African con­sti­tu­tional is­sues, and will prob­a­bly echo there for some time. But it also re­ver­ber­ates glob­ally. Bashir, the only head of state cur­rently un­der ICC in­dict­ment, has moved freely among those African na­tions whose lead­ers dis­miss the ICC as a racist in­sti­tu­tion be­cause it has, to date, in­dicted only Africans. Un­der its char­ter, the ICC can only bring cases in­volv­ing mem­ber na­tions in which the le­gal sys­tem has failed. (De­spite that, the United States, fear­ing pros­e­cu­tion of sol­diers and other agents of the gov­ern­ment, has not joined.) It can also take up cases re­ferred by the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, although ve­toes by the five per­ma­nent mem­bers have added a layer of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics to the met­ing out of jus­tice — China and Rus­sia, for in­stance, have blocked at­tempts to bring a case against Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

Af­ter more than a dozen years and $1 bil­lion, the ICC has brought just 22 cases and has ob­tained just two con­vic­tions. The court has no po­lice force to ar­rest those it in­dicts, and, as be­came clear in South Africa this week, its cred­i­bil­ity is so un­der­mined that some mem­ber states ig­nore its war­rants.

The idea of an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal as a court of last re­sort for cases in­volv­ing war crimes and hor­rific hu­man rights abuses is ap­peal­ing, and the tri­bunals set up to pun­ish atroc­i­ties in the for­mer Yu­goslavia, Rwanda and Cam­bo­dia have worked to some ef­fect. Un­for­tu­nately, the ICC, which has a broader man­date, has proved to be ex­pen­sive and, so far, in­ef­fec­tive. The vic­tims of in­hu­man­ity de­serve bet­ter.

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