Why so many Africans at the ICC?

The trial of Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, and the upcoming decision on Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s arrest warrant, has prompted a fascinating and worthy debate about the rights and wrongs of international justice.

No, of course it hasn’t. But it has prompted a fascinating and perhaps slightly unworthy debate about why the West hates Africa so much. So far, the International Criminal Court has begun investigations in four countries – all of which happen to be in Africa. Some African leaders think this isn’t really fair, what with all the wars going on elsewhere.

“We have the feeling that this court is chasing Africa”

Thomas Boni Yayi, President of Benin

“It seems that Africa has become a laboratory to test the new international law.”

Jean Ping, chairman of the Africa Union

 And some have warned that going after African leaders isn’t very helpful:

“If you arrest Bashir, you will create a leadership vacuum in Sudan. The outcome could be equal to that of Iraq. There would be an increase in anarchy,”

Tanzanian Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe

So, are they right? Is the dastardly ICC picking on poor, defenceless Africa? Or is it utter bollocks?

Let’s start at the beginning. There are three ways in which an ICC investigation can begin. A national government can refer a case to the ICC; the UN Security Council can refer a case to the ICC; the ICC’s chief prosecutor can use its own initiative to launch an investigation.

In the cases of DRC, CAR and Uganda it was the national governments which requested the ICC’s help. So if Messrs Ping and Boni Yayi want to pick a fight with anyone they should probably be having words with Joseph Kabila, Francois Bozize and Yoweri Museveni.

The only case that’s different is Darfur. In that instance, the UN Security Council referred the case to the ICC. Of the 15 members of the Security Council, 11 voted in favour. They included, oh… well this is all rather embarrassing… Tanzania and Benin.

The words of Benin’s ambassador following the vote are worth repeating in full:

JOEL ADECHI (Benin) said the vote was a major event in the context of the international community’s attempts to ensure there was no impunity for violations of international humanitarian law in the past decade.  Benin had voted in favour of the resolution because it was party to the Rome Statute and also because the worsening of the situation in Darfur meant that the Council must take action to end the suffering of the civilians, ending impunity by providing impartial justice.  Benin had also voted in favour out of respect for human dignity and the right to life.  The African Union recognized that the international community had a responsibility to protect civilians when they were not protected by their own governments.  The resolution must help them to achieve their legitimate dream of an end to their suffering and enable them to look ahead to the future with serenity.

So what about the third category? Which African atrocities has ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo decided to consider investigating? That’ll be Afghanistan, Columbia and Georgia.

It’s one thing for politicians to play the Africa card, but surely a respectable news organisation wouldn’t swallow the propa… Sorry, scrap that. Here’s a piece on Reuters titled ‘Putting Africa on Trial?’ At least they put a question mark on it.

 

 

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