African states leav­ing ICC is ‘re­gres­sion’: Prose­cu­tor

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

THE HAGUE — The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court’s prose­cu­tor said Tues­day that it is a “re­gres­sion” for African na­tions — in­clud­ing her home coun­try of Gam­bia — to quit the court and said the con­ti­nent should work with her of­fice to end im­punity for atroc­i­ties.

Speak­ing to AP at the court’s head­quar­ters over­look­ing the North Sea on the edge of The Hague, Prose­cu­tor Fatou Bensouda said re­gional and lo­cal courts in Africa can also play a key role in bringing per­pe­tra­tors of atroc­i­ties to jus­tice.

Bensouda’s com­ments came as the court’s gov­ern­ing body, the Assem­bly of States Par­ties, met nearby with the is­sue of depart­ing African states fig­ur­ing promi­nently in its dis­cus­sions.

South Africa, Bu­rundi and Gam­bia have an­nounced plans to leave the court, which has 124 mem­ber states, spark­ing fears of a domino ef­fect among other African na­tions.

“I think it’s a set­back for the con­ti­nent, it’s a re­gres­sion for the con­ti­nent that there are some African states that are de­cid­ing to with­draw from the ICC,” Bensouda said.

How­ever, she said that the an­nounced with­drawals have gal­vanised sup­port for the court among other African coun­tries at­tend­ing the an­nual gath­er­ing of mem­ber states.

“I wanted to em­pha­sise that today dur­ing this Assem­bly of States Par­ties you have the vast ma­jor­ity of African states recom­mit­ting to the ICC and re­new­ing . . . sup­port for the ICC,” Bensouda said.

One way of the in­ter­na­tional court en­gag­ing with Africa is by sup­port­ing lo­cal and re­gional courts, Bensouda said. Her of­fice is work­ing with au­thor­i­ties in Cen­tral African Repub­lic to help es­tab­lish a court to pros­e­cute atroc­i­ties in that con­flict-torn coun­try.

“What we should also re­mem­ber is that the ICC was not meant to take each and ev­ery case,” Bensouda said. “So there must be na­tional ef­forts, there must be re­gional ef­forts that are also try­ing to bridge the im­punity gap.”

She said the ICC would con­tinue to go af­ter those con­sid­ered most re­spon­si­ble for atroc­i­ties, while lo­cal and re­gional courts could bring oth­ers to jus­tice. “That way we can com­ple­ment each other.”

Hu­man rights lawyer Reed Brody, who worked for years to have for­mer Cha­dian dic­ta­tor His­sen Habre pros­e­cuted, agrees.

“It’s pos­si­ble, and de­sir­able, if these tri­als could be held in Africa, ev­ery­one would be hap­pier,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “The ICC is a court of last re­sort, and it only steps in when the jus­tice mech­a­nisms at home are ab­sent or un­able to take on cases.”

In May, in an ex­am­ple of an African-based court pros­e­cut­ing a for­mer leader, the Ex­tra­or­di­nary African Cham­bers in Sene­gal found Habre guilty and sen­tenced him to life im­pris­on­ment for crimes against hu­man­ity, war crimes, tor­ture and sex crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing his pres­i­dency from 1982-1990.

Ad­dress­ing an­other is­sue be­ing dis­cussed at the Assem­bly of States Par­ties, Bensouda said she hopes mem­ber states will sup­port the court’s pro­posed 2017 bud­get of just over 147 mil­lion eu­ros ($156 mil­lion), a 7 per­cent in­crease over the 2016 bud­get. Ac­tivists say some mem­ber states are push­ing for the court to adopt a bud­get at the same level as this year, with no in­crease for in­fla­tion.

Bensouda said she wants to ex­pand the num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions her of­fice car­ries out, but needs suf­fi­cient funds.

“If I’m not able to get that bud­get ap­proved, it would mean I have to study again my case docket and per­haps pri­ori­tise what I need to do and what has to wait,” she said.

Bensouda said last week that she is close to de­cid­ing whether to open a full-scale in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Afghanistan — which could tar­get al­leged crimes by US forces and CIA agents, as well as by the Tal­iban and Afghan forces. On Tues­day, she said the de­ci­sion would be made “in due course”.

Asked if she was con­cerned that Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as the next US pres­i­dent would af­fect the probe, she said: “We reach out to those we think should co-op­er­ate with us for us to be able to do out work and this is ex­actly what the of­fice will con­tinue to do ir­re­spec­tive of which dossier, ir­re­spec­tive of which gov­ern­ment is in place.” — AFP

Fatou Bensouda

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