By Paul Ndiho, Washington, D.C
April 9, 2013
Over a decade ago, representatives from more than 100 member states gathered in Rome to establish the international criminal court. The court investigates and tries cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court has recently come under scrutiny because it appears to be primarily focused only on African conflicts.
All eyes are on Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national who was elected in December 2011 to serve as the first African prosecutor for the I.C.C. Initially, Bensouda was overwhelmingly supported by African countries, but now critics say the court is biased because the majority of its investigations and indictments are seemingly centered on Africa and its leaders. But the chief prosecutor is not taking the charges lightly.
Africans are beginning to pay more attention to the ICC’s interest in their continent, according to David Bosco, an assistant professor at American university’s school of international service in Washington, dc. Bosco authored the book International Criminal Court, “Rough Justice” and he recently penned an article in the Washington post questioning “why the ICC is picking only on Africa”.
“Well it is very striking that were now more than a decade into the ICC’s operations and every investigation and every person indicted has been African. And that doesn’t mean that these conflicts that the ICC has investigated shouldn’t be investigated. But i think many African officials and leaders are wondering why this court, which is international has only focused on Africa, to this point.
The election of Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s president and William Ruto as vice president in March, is yet another test for the international criminal court. Many Kenyans are questioning the validity of Uhuru’s case at The Hague. And his lawyers want the charges of crimes against humanity against him dropped, after the ICC case against former Kenyan ambassador Francis Muthaura collapsed, after a key witness was discredited.
But prosecutors say President Kenyatta has to answer for allegedly orchestrating violence after the 2007 election, when some 1200 people were killed. Like many critics, Bosco notes that the court’s decision to put President Kenyatta on trial is likely to have far-reaching consequences in Kenya.
“It’s going to be very interesting to watch now with Kenya where an indicted individual, two individuals, the president and the vice president have been indicted and they have now been elected. There’s a question with what’s going to happen with their trials, whether they are going to participate in their trials. But it seems very possible that the Kenya situation is going to accentuate that already existing tension in-between the court and African governments.”
Some analysts say President Kenyatta’s case is an important test for the heavily criticized Hague court, because he could become the first head of state to be actively defending charges at the ICC.
Despite all the condemnation, the ICC has managed to secure one conviction. Last July, the court jailed Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for 14 years for recruiting child soldiers under the age of 15 and forcing them to fight in a war in the democratic republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.
Dyilo’s co-accused Bosco Natanga also known as “the terminator,” evaded arrest on war crimes charges for more than seven years before unexpectedly giving himself up to diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda last month. Ntaganda is accused of murder, rape and other crimes over a 15-year-period of fighting in Rwandan-backed rebellions in eastern DRC.
“It seems that what happened is the m23 fractured from within, one faction of the group wanted to turn him over, he didn’t feel comfortable obviously seeking refuge with the Rwandan government. And so he seems to have thought that the ICC was his best option. But it’s an important case; it will be a difficult trial i think. It will be a long trial, often evidence in these cases is difficult and they’ll be a lot of disputes about what evidences is used.”
Ntaganda’s appearance in court is a much-needed success story for the ICC. With many of the court’s suspects, including Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, still-at large– and beyond its reach, Ntaganda’s arrival is especially welcome to prosecutors and activists.