05 March 2009

Maybe the ICC isn't just "white man's justice" after all

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, accusing him of "directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property." In January, the Court began its first case with Thomas Lubanga, former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the dock. So far the Court has indicted thirteen individuals, all Africans. This emphasis on Africans has led to suggestions the Court is focusing on Third World leaders while overlooking the sins of Western nations such as the horrors inflicted on Iraq by former U.S. President George W. Bush.

African Union spokesperson Jean Ping, while supporting the Court, has nonetheless said,
"What we see is that international justice seems to be applying its fight against impunity only to Africa as if nothing were happening elsewhere, [such as] in Iraq, Gaza, Colombia or in the Caucasus." Apparently more than 40 African countries are thinking of withdrawing their membership from the Court.

The ICC, the first permanent tribunal set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, is a major step forward for international justice, and it would be tragic if it were tarred with the brush of discrimination. A new investigation may put paid to that. The Court is considering whether the Palestinian Authority will be allowed to bring a case against Israel for war crimes committed in the recent assault on Gaza.

Proceeding will not be easy. There is a question of whether the Palestine Authority is sufficiently like a state to qualify for bringing a case. To date, the ICC has not recognized Palestine as a sovereign state and it is not a member of the Court. In addition to members of the Court, cases can be brought by the UN Security Council or the Court Prosecutor. The U.S. would veto the former possibility so hopes for an indictment may very well rest entirely with the Prosecutor. The odds of prosecution are not good, therefore, but the fact the Court is conducting a serious investigation may at least allay concerns that Western nations have immunity.

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