John Hinchcliff: Embattled world court must not be left to fail

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President Mugabe claims the ICC can only be regarded as being impartial when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush are prosecuted for their crimes in Iraq.
President Mugabe claims the ICC can only be regarded as being impartial when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush are prosecuted for their crimes in Iraq.

The future of the crucial International Criminal Court is in jeopardy because of bitter opposition from leaders of some key nations in Africa.

The disaffected African nations argue the African Union should withdraw from the ICC.

Last Friday a conference of African Foreign Ministers decided to defer temporarily the possibility of leaving this crucial court.

Their arguments include the perceived bias of the ICC in targeting only African nations in all eight of its investigations and prosecutions.

"This is neo-colonialist and anti-African". It is "unfair and [its] unjust treatment is totally unacceptable," declared Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian chair of the African Union's Executive Council.

This ignores the fact the ICC is investigating brutalities in other nations such as Georgia and Colombia.

The trigger is the strong opposition to any present political leader being prosecuted for criminal action. In particular, they demand the ICC dismiss the case against Kenya's President, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and his Vice-President, William Ruto. They demand immunity for them from the accusations of causing the violent deaths of 1200 people and the displacement of 600,000 after the 2007 election. Their trial is due to begin next month in The Hague.

Kenyatta stated: "The ICC has been reduced into a painfully 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."

The African Union is also demanding the United Nations Security Council defer the ICC's recommendation to prosecute Sudan's President Mohammed al-Bashir for genocide and "crimes against humanity" in Darfur. The ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009 that he has so far successfully avoided.

According to the African Union, this impasse can only be broken if the ICC is willing to provide immunity for all political leaders and establish a process, involving their leadership, and focusing on "truth telling, repentance, justice, healing and forgiveness".

Hostility to the ICC comes from Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Those nations supportive of the ICC include Nigeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Botswana, Lesotho and Mauritius.

Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has voiced support for the ICC. The Archbishop stated: "Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a licence to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence ... They simply vilify the institution as racist and unjust, as Hermann Goering and his fellow Nazi defendants vilified the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II."

And about 130 non-government agencies throughout Africa have written requesting the African Union support the ICC to "promote human rights and to reject immunity".

Unfortunately, there is some validity in the criticism that the ICC, like the UN Security Council, is biased politically. This is manifested by the unwillingness of key nations such as the United States, China and Russia to allow the ICC to have any jurisdiction over their activities.

President Mugabe claims the ICC can only be regarded as being impartial when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush are prosecuted for their crimes in Iraq.

It is difficult, as a consequence, to claim that the ICC is the independent and impartial agency so desperately needed to establish a just order in our world.

The key nations must find ways to counter the charge of imperialism and maintain a scrupulous neutrality and impartiality. And every nation that believes that murder and injustice are wrong must support the ICC.

This agency of justice must not fail.

Dr John Hinchcliff is President of the Peace Foundation and a former Vice-Chancellor of AUT University.

- NZ Herald

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