28 May 2014

The ICC and the Africa problem

Picking up from last week, I am, as in so many things, late to this party.

The ICC is currently looking into allegations of war crimes in eight countries, all in Africa. Four of the investigations are the result of requests by Uganda, the DRC, the Central African Republic and Mali. The UNSC asked for two others, in Libya and Sudan. In a way, this makes sense. After all, Africa accounted for 24% of global direct conflict deaths from 2004-2007 (this is from the Geneva Declaration report on the global burden of armed violence, and it is completely and utterly worth your time to read). The Middle East and Asia, however, accounted for around 60% (given the timeframe, we can fairly safely assume that this was the Iraq war, and by all that’s holy you have to know the ICC wasn’t going to touch that with a ten foot pole). Moreover, from 2004-2009, the countries with the highest rates of violent deaths annually were El Salvador, Iraq, Jamaica, Honduras, and Colombia, and the ICC hasn’t even bothered to begin investigations (I’m not just blowing smoke – there is a correlation between homicide rates and efficacy of a given criminal justice system).

In fact, the ICC has only ever prosecuted Africans, a fact which has resulted in some raised eyebrows. Some might argue (reasonably, I think) that if you only step in where crimes are the worst, and then only when the state either does not have the power to handle it themselves or to tell you to bugger off (which is more or less what Colombia has done), it lends itself to a certain section of the globe. Others might applaud the Court for focusing on the plight of African victims and survivors when so many others prefer to overlook them (insert your own Dark Continent reference here). But others see something more nefarious at work – a kind of neo-colonialism, a standard of global justice that is reserved for Africa alone.

And Africa, which as the continent boasts more signatories of the Rome Statue than any other – 34 – is fighting back. The AU actually went so far as to urge member states not coöoperate with the ICC in detaining Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, a clear violation of Rome Statute. Of course, several African states ignored the call, apparently uninterested in aiding and abetting a pariah of the international community. South African, for example, threatened him with arrest if he attended the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma, while Malawi refused him entrance to an AU summit, and Kenya – clearly, some time ago – blocked him from attending a regional summit. He even cancelled or hastily abandoned trips to Zambia, CAR, and Nigeria for fear of being apprehended. Even so, hackles are raised. Ethiopia’s PM recently accused the court of ‘race hunting’, though I am not totally clear on what that means.

Rwanda has been a particularly outspoken opponent of the Court, which likely stems from the government’s frosty relations with ICTR. This Rwandan antipathy is a bit unwarranted, as they are a non-signatory and the ICC, not being the ICTR, has no jurisdiction over the RPF’s counter-genocide, not that the Tribunal has managed to do much about it in the past 20 years. Where, then, is the beef? A good question; it can be found in the accusations that Rwanda has been backing M23, CNDP, and whatever other Congolese insurgency most fits their whim at the moment. The DRC is quite an active signatory, actually, which does give the Court jurisdiction over any Rwandan official they suspect of meddling with atrocities committed across the border (so, several). There’s even some pretty solid precedent here in the conviction of conviction of Charles Taylor in 2012 for supporting the RUF.

If you happen to be thinking that the accusations of regional/racial bias seem to be tossed around by those most likely to face investigation, you wouldn’t be alone. Which brings me to the latest round of attacks being level at the ICC, this time by a state that was previously among its staunchest defenders. In my last post, I hinted at and talked around this new development, so let’s finally deal with the Kenyatta trial head-on. It’s now been delayed – for the third time – until October, though when/if it finally gets underway, it will mark the first time a sitting head of state has been tried before the court. Draaaaama!

Let me explain – no, there is too much. Let me sum up: President Uhuru Kenyatta is charged with inciting the ethnic violence surrounding the 2007 elections (remember those, when 1,200 people were killed in one of Africa’s most stable states? Fun times were had by all). It’s not just Kenyatta, but also his deputy, William Ruto, and radio journalist Josiah Sang, who have been charged. Last September, the AU asked that the ICC refer the cases to local courts, noting that Kenyan constitutional reforms from 2010 – so, reforms instituted by the government of the accused, after the warrants were issued – were sufficient to allow for a national mechanism to investigate and prosecute the cases. The ICC demurred; Kenya cried violation of sovereignty and lobbied the member-states of the AU to withdraw en masse from the ICC a month later.

Clearly, that did not occur, but the handing of this case has exemplified the stickiness of the Court’s situation, and its outcome likely to do so doubly, mired as it is in all manner of ethnic politics in Kenya. The president and his deputy are from two of the largest tribes, most historically prone to clashing with one another. Right now, in a delicate and frankly unlikely coalition – the Jubilee Alliance. “But the outcome of the ICC cases, especially a mixed verdict in which one of the two leaders is convicted and the other is acquitted…will severely test the durability of their coalition. The breakup of the Jubilee Alliance could have far-reaching consequences for peace and security in the Rift Valley.”

While it is impossible to separate the trial from local politics, let’s try and keep a macro lens on the situation. In that sense, it’s a question of Imperialism versus Impunity. In the Imperialism corner, wearing righteous indignation, is the Kenyan government, which has said that the trial is a “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.” They have also repeatedly opined that the trail is unfairly distracting Kenyatta from governing the state. In the other corner, wearing high-handedness, is the ICC and it’s supports arguing that only the court has the necessary level of impartiality to “break the deeply entrenched and pervasive culture of impunity”. Unfortunately for the challenger, my money is with the Court in this particular fight (because I’m sure that’s what they were worried about). Kenya’s judiciary is not exactly renown for its independence from the executive branch, which appoints it. Further, Kenyatta and Ruto somewhat undercut their own charge of imperialism by hiring Western lawyers and PR consultants to manage their defence in both the legal and public spheres.

What really sends this fight in the ICC’s favour, though? How the case came before the Court in the first place. For all intents and purposes, the ICC was called in as the result of an AU-created mediation panel led by former UNSG Kofi Annan, and only after the bill to establish a local tribunal, following the recommendations of the panel, was defeated in the Kenyan parliament twice. At the time, Kenyan politicians including Ruto said they preferred going to the Hague, and Kenyatta himself endorsed Annan’s decision to present his evidence to the ICC prosecutor. They took a gamble that the ICC would not the stones to take on sitting heads of government, and they might have lost the farm.

Frankly, this is something of a damned if you do/n’t scenario for the ICC. A conviction will serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who accuse the court of ‘race hunt’ and selective justice targeting Africans. If all parties are acquitted or the case dismissed, possibly due to non-cooperation by the defendants (see getting it postponed three times) or witnesses recanting or vanishing (which challenges the prosecutor is meeting through the creation of a witness protection program and the creation of a new rule that allow sworn testimony to be considered even in the event of a witness’ disappearance or death), it will be proof positive of the Court’s inability to make the hard charges stick or ensure justice for the victims of violence.

Uganda did fairly recently agree to hand some people over to the ICC, so that’s a nice affirmation, I guess. They’re M23 types, which begs the question why didn’t they just head out for Rwanda? Wrong neighbour, fellas.

I’ll wrap up for the moment with a few other, non-African (mostly) side notes:

Palestine, which has lately been enjoying stretching the bounds of its official observer status at the UNGA, has been quite amusing vis-à-vis the Court. In a savvy move, it opted to not sign the Rome Convention, even when signing on to a wealth of other international. Any and all of these actions were, of course, opposed by the US and Israel (because having Palestine affirm the rights of the child or join the international community in standing against torture or war crimes is a terrible thing. Sometimes, I really hate the US), but joining the Court would have opened Israeli soldiers to its oversight, and even Palestine recognised that as a bridge too far.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR (the position, not the UN organ, though I’m not sure you can fully separate the two) has expressed a desire to refer North Korea leadership to the ICC, saying that “security chiefs and possibly even Supreme leader Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation, and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.” China, as you can imagine, was not amused.

Finally, let’s come back around to international justice and the DRC with this interesting read from the BBC. It’s a bit dated – the anniversary has passed, but, hell, this whole post is pretty dated, and surprisingly genocide-themed. Well, given the subject matter, I suppose it’s not so surprising. But still.

Oh, and since my colleagues made that rather tasteless joke about calling Kony? The LRA has started attacking again. The head nurse at one of our clinics (one I visited, actually – Asa) was kidnapped last month and we haven’t heard from or about him since. Even so, the donors have left Ango, and they’re not coming back. It looks like our base will likely be closed within a year, just as those of all the other NGOs. The last vestiges of international concern for an area so destitute that one can only pay for her C-section with a pineapple are drying up. Maybe it’s not the ICC that has an Africa problem – it’s everybody else.