The ICC debate: A pan-African perspective
The International Criminal Court with its selective justice has become a vehicle for enforcing neocolonial interests in Africa. ICC has proven that it is beholden to countries that are not even signatories to the Rome statute that set it up.
Once again, the spotlight is on Africa as four Kenyans – three political leaders and a journalist – have been indicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Once again, the question that has never been answered is, why Africa? And why the speed? In Anglo-Saxon parts of the world, some leaders are treated with kids’ gloves when they commit ‘crimes against humanity’. Others, like the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush, go to write memoirs defending their abuse of international laws.
Let us put this in context, in Ivory Coast, ex-President Laurent Gbagbo was ‘abducted’ (the words used by Jerry John Rawlings, former President of Ghana) at midnight and carted off to The Hague. In my view, his crimes remain unknown except to the French and his Ivorian adversaries. Charles Taylor (Liberia) remains in The Hague incarcerated. Now we learn that all along, the former President of Liberia may have been a CIA agent. So we can guess why the leadership of the United States would like to see him remain in The Hague. He knows too much. In the case of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his sons were even indicted before the ICC could establish whether they had committed crimes ‘against humanity.’ Other Africans from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also facing charges in The Hague. In the Sudan, a sitting head of state, President Omar Bashir, has also been indicted. The queue of Africans waiting to be hanged by this international court is endless.
Yet, a cursory glance at the world also tells of many crimes committed against ordinary citizens – from Palestine to Afghanistan, to Libya and, of course, Iraq. Who bears responsibility for these crimes? Are we suggesting that the lives of Iraqi, Libyan and Palestanian children and women do not matter? How come no one is facing so-called justice in The Hague?
This raises serious questions about the selective justice and double standards of the international systems of justice that is selectively applied to Africa and especially African leaders by the so-called ‘international community’. It leaves me with no option but to conclude that the ICC has become a vehicle for enforcing neocolonial interest in Africa, which members of the UN Security Council can exploit. What is even more worrying is that the ICC has become a tool in the hands of vicious African elite/politicians fighting for the national cake. All it takes is to convince the so-called international community that your opponent needs to go to The Hague. I will suggest in all seriousness that serious crimes against humanity have been committed in Libya by NATO forces, and by both sides in the post-election crisis in the Ivory Coast. But we are yet to see some action on that front. The work of the ICC will make sense, and justice will be served, if the leaders who authorised the bombing of Tripoli under the guise of UN resolutions also face the same justice that the Kenyans are supposedly going to face.
In the case of Kenya, the facts should be separated from the chaff. There was post-election violence in which over 1,000 citizens died, some under gruesome conditions. Someone or some groups bear responsibility for this. As usual, the international community, and a flaking Kenyan leadership, abdicated responsibility for punishing those responsible to a horde of international experts and UN rapporteurs with lengthy reports.
Maybe, these people did some good, but these reports are now gathering dust while all attention is paid to the antics of the chief prosecutor of the ICC Luis Moreno-Ocampo. The man now thinks he is a celebrity in Kenya. ‘Kenyans love me’, he is reported to have said. Second, the Kenyan ruling class failed to set up a local tribunal to address cases of post-election violence and historical injustices, thereby fuelling the feeling among ordinary Kenyans that the ICC route was the only way to seek justice. Third, the Kenyan elite, especially those in civil society, seem united in their view that to end ‘impunity’, they need the intervention of some foreign ‘knight in armour’ who should descend in Kenya to take out the bad guys (their leaders who are responsible for impunity). I suggest that impunity is deep-seated in Africa, and its historical and structural causes should be addressed. Impunity has colonial and neo colonial roots. The ICC can only deal with the symptoms.
In Kenya, the ICC debate, like most debates, has become a lawyers’ paradise where people talk of ‘the Rome statute’ and similar words with arrogant recklessness and self-satisfaction. That African seads of states signed up to this is ‘Rome statute’ is not in doubt, but for good reasons. Others refused. But this does not constitute a blood oath to which we are bound for life, as the juju takers in Nollywood movies suggest.
The debate about how to seek justice for the victims of the post-election violence in Kenya seems to have been relegated to a few campaigners. The internally displace people (citizens) of Kenya are still living in IDP camps. Women who were abused have not been offered counseling or financial compensation or support to deal with the consequences of the abuse. Children of IDP families are not receiving quality primary education as their families are on the move and lack stability. Kenya is yet to heal, as the ruling elite and the so-called international community engages in futile and sometimes endless debates about ‘impunity’ and the ICC. The nongovernmental organisations and civil society have been caught up in this maze as some seek publicity for themselves and their organisations at the expense of real justice for victims. Playing to the international gallery has become the endgame in Nairobi. Who speaks for the IDPs? Who speaks for the women who were abused?
This reminds me of Sierra Leone. When I visited Freetown after the civil war, there was a lot of talk about ‘impunity’ and justice, as we are hearing today. The UN Tribunal for Sierra Leone was set up in a huge compound in Freetown as a justice centre of some sort to deal with so-called perpetrators of the civil war, nothing about the victims. It was full of young European and American lawyers recruited as ‘investigators’, with their fanciful laptops and mobile phones. All was set for justice. Down the road was an amputee camp, where amputees, real victims of the savage civil war, lived in unimaginable abject poverty. So the question I asked myself was: where is our sense of priority? Are we condemning the living, young as they are, to a life of penury, so that some octogenerian leaders can be put on trial, and for what purpose? Millions of dollars were spent on this illusive justice while the youthful victims of the civil war – ex-combatants and their families – were abandoned by the same international system which has ripped off Sierra Leone for its diamonds. Is that the African sense of justice? Many Sierra Leoneans and other West Africans had the same feeling; we could only shake our heads in disbelief. In the case of Sierra Leone, most of the so-called perpetrators died in jail awaiting trials.
I would suggest that Kenya is headed in that same direction. The broad sense of seeking social justice for victims has been pushed to the dustbin of history as people seek retribution, and settle petty political scores of a different nature. Whether the four indicted individuals deserve to be indicted by the ICC or not is for Kenyans to answer. But some of us will never know, as only those with voices and access to Kenya’s media which is embedded with powerful interests, and positions that appeal to or support the marginalisation of Africa, and the abuse of African leaders in the international system get heard. But it would be churlish and ahistorical to separate what is happening to the Kenyan four . It is part of a broader cat and mouse game of humiliating African leaders to serve the global imperialist interest of some countries, and to justify their continued plunder of the continent and its resources, a game in which Africa will always emerge as the loser.
In the case of the Kenyan four, I cannot help but feel that this is more about the impending election (2012 0or 2013), than about justice for victims. Some in the international community and their minions have suggested that some ethnic groups should be sidelined. A dangerous proposition for a country seeking to build a cohesive society.
In a contribution to Pambazuka News last year, I suggested that an international cabal of pan-African and global imperialist interest are combining forces to destabilise Africa. This is a continuation of this debate. The idea that shipping four Kenyans (Africans) to join the already high number in The Hague is somehow the best way to achieve justice does not appeal to me. My position will be the same if these four were Libyan, Nigerian, Ghanaian or Ugandan. I believe that Africa has come of age to settle its own problems. I believe that neither the UK nor British governments will subject their citizens, especially, young, intelligent and committed politicians, to the sort of humiliation that the four Kenyans are being subjected to in the name of fighting impunity.
The ICC has time and time again proven that it is beholden to countries that are not even signatories to the Rome statute (for example the United States, as in the case of President Charles Taylor). Ocampo has proven that he is anti-African, that his interest is only in persecuting and prosecuting Africans because we have made ourselves vulnerable to this process. This same court which acknowledges that African countries are signatories ignores the voice of the African Union leadership – those we have elected to represent our interest as Africans. Will the ICC ignore the leaders of France, the UK, the European Union and the United States? Yet, the ICC ignored the AU in the case of Sudan, and ignored the pleas of Kenya’s Vice President who had the support of the majority of progressive thinking African leaders in the Africa Union. This underlies the contemptuous attitude towards African leaders by lower officials in international organisations. Why do we allow this to happen?
In the case of Kenya, what is even more worrying is the impact of this process on the national psyche. It destabilises the country, creates unnecessary anxiety and fuels rumours of the dangerous type. Kenyans need closure to the post-election violence if they are to build a cohesive and progressive society based on the ethic of the 2010 constitution. The intelligentsia is supposed to lead this struggle, but it is failing as they are devoid of any ideological leanings or clarity. ‘Human rights’ is treated as if it is value-free, with no ideological underpinnings. The debate about political transition in Kenya is being sidelined and made to look moribund as the country frets and is on tenterhooks awaiting decisions from the ICC. In Kenya, the ICC has been elevated to a ‘god’ with the prosecutor as some sort of deity. Dissenting voices are silenced or seen as irrelevant to this debate.
However, it is important for Africans to realise that there is no alternative to nation-building and to local processes. Neither the US nor France will abdicate such awesome responsibilities to a foreign court or subject the whole nation to such unnecessary anxiety. Africans must have the courage and steadfast belief in our ability to change the continent, to deal with abuses and seek justice on our own terms. For me, the ICC will always remain an imperialist-led institution set up to hold back the forces of progress, while undermining African institutions and our ability to deal with forces of retrogression and ‘impunity’. It is time for African leaders to take charge and not hand over the continent to some faceless ‘judges’ of the international system.
Zaya Yeebo is programme manager at Amkeni wa Kenya.
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- AU: African States Should Increase Support for Justice – HRW (indepthafrica.com)
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