Saturday, December 26, 2009

Africa And The International Criminal Court Of [In]justice

"Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, there will always be war."
—Emperor Haile Sellassie

"The ICC is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States."
—Robin Cook, former British Minister.

Angered by the callous disrespect shown it by the UN Security Council (UNSC), the African Union (AU) at its last summit in Sitre, Libya, (July 1-3, 2009) decided to withdraw cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

What seems to have made the AU angry was the decision by the ICC to indict Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir and issue an arrest warrant against him. The AU had asked the UNSC to suspend the indictment against al-Bashir for a year because it [AU] was involved in very delicate negotiations over the Darfur case, which the AU believed could be derailed by any indictment.

The AU had established a High Level Panel on Darfur chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. The panel is tasked to look comprehensively into the Darfur crisis and make a holistic recommendation on how it could be resolved, taking into recognition the AU position that there is a complementary relationship between peace and justice, and that neither should be pursued at the expense of the other.

The UNSC decided to ignore the pleas of the African leaders. And as though to rub salt to the collective wounds of the African leaders, the ICC decided to issue its warrant a few days before they (African leaders) gathered for their annual summit; hence their fury.

It must have meant a great deal for these leaders to take that significant decision. It looks like this time the ire of Africans has been provoked beyond the threshold of tolerance. Except for NGOs and their local supporters (who know where their bread is buttered), Africans across the length and breadth of the continent are hopping mad. They are angry, very angry. They are indignant.

Having been taken for granted for so long by the West, they are protesting the latest insult from the hypocritical countries. They are angry at the West's latest assault on their collective psyches. They are fuming over the sickening double-standards of the West in dealing with black people. Their anger is well justified when we look closely at the issue at stake.

On March 4, 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. The ICC was created on July 1, 2002, by virtue of the Treaty of Rome to try four categories of crimes: war crimes, crimes of genocide, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity. One hundred eight of the world's 192 countries are members of the court. The U.S., Russia, India, and China are among the countries that have refused to join. Sudan is also not a member!

As usual, the USA is busy playing the hypocrite. The most-influential country in the world, which refused to recognize the ICC, has suddenly become its most vociferous heavyweight champion. The U.S. is widely believed to have arm-twisted several African countries into signing the Treaty of Rome.

Under heavy pressure from the U.S. and its sidekick, Britain, the Security Council of the UN (minus China) voted to refer charges of indictment against president al-Bashir to the ICC, unlike in previous cases whereby countries have done the referring. This was necessary because Sudan, like the U.S., has not ratified the Rome Statute that founded the ICC. However, Sudan is, like most countries, bound by decisions of the UNSC.

The ICC charges against al-Bashir list five counts of "individual criminal responsibility" for crimes against humanity -- murder, extermination, forcibly transfer, torture, and rape. There are also two additional counts for war crimes. One of the twists in the Sudan drama and the engulfing crises was that in January 2005, Judge Antoni Cassese, the first president of International Criminal Tribunal, headed the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur. The commission dismissed genocide charges against the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. Four years later, the UN (albeit its Security Council) yielded to heavy pressure to issue an indictment against a man who had been cleared by a commission of the same UN!

The London-based New African magazine is currently airing views on the ICC-Sudan saga and it is evident that many Africans are clearly angry by the decision to indict. And this should also be understandable when we look closely at the [apparent] racial bias of the ICC.

As Courtenay Griffiths, the lead counsel for former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, pointed out on a Ghana's Joy FM interview: "[...] By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo had received 2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan Darfur. All of them in Africa! Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans."

From here, Griffiths, a Jamaican-born British Queen's Counsel (QC) went thermo-nuclear: "The spectacle of an African president being led in chains to Europe makes my blood boil with rage!" He thundered. "It is slavery time, all again." He went on to lament the seeming apathy of the African Union and Africans generally to this humiliation. He queried why the AU has not deemed it fit to sort itself out so that Africa can start to solve its own problems. "Why did this trial not take place in Africa? Why has the African Union not established its own court to deal with issues that affect Africans in Africa? If a corporal in the American Army cannot be tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, how come an African president can?"

Among the things that leave Africans fuming about the ICC is the inherent racism involved. To them the international law (as advocated by the West) is just another Western ploy to maintain its hegemony over their lives. Both Tony Blair and George Bush, Jr. committed more heinous crimes than either Taylor or al-Bashir; their non-prosecution by the "international community" smacks of rank racism. To many Africans the so-called international justice is being exercised on racial basis. Both Bush and Blair are clearly indictable under several articles of the Rome Statute. By any definition both men are war criminals (even if unindicted). Their crimes include but are not limited to murder, torture, and forcible transfer of prisoners (rendition). But since both the U.S. and the U.K. enjoy veto power at the UNSC, no one realistically expect either Bush or Blair to be referred anytime soon to the ICC for criminal prosecution. This is what's getting the Africans goat and no amount of rationalization can wish these feelings away.

Another reason has to do with Africans' definition of justice. In the West justice is equated with punishment; this is not so in Africa. The traditional African system always emphasizes harmony over retribution. Africans generally do not confuse justice with vengeance as Westerners do. That explains why former colonialists who had behaved like predatory beasts were allowed to go away scot-free. That was also the only reason why the Bothas and the Ian Smiths of Africa were allowed to keep their heads. We also witness how Rwanda was able to heal the traumas of the recent genocide by employing purely traditional system of justice.

Africans also believe that there can be no peace wherever justice is lacking. We can glean some of the Africans attitude towards the notion of justice by some of the proverbs they use. My Yoruba people say:

i. Omo ale ni iri inu ti ki nbi; omo ale la si nbe ti ko ki ngba. It is only a bastard who does not get angry when provoked; it is equally a bastard who refuses to be appeased.

ii. Ti a ko ba gbagbe oro ana, a ko ni ri eni ba sere. If we do not forget yesterday's quarrel, we will have no one to play with.

We can contrast this with the Western notion of heavily punishing the slightest transgression even as they preach forgiveness when the criminals happen to be white -- like the colonialists in Africa. The duplicitous nature of the West is best revealed in their sending missionaries all over the world to teach the rest of us a so-called Lord's Prayer which says, inter alia: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us."

Where in the wide, wide world have Westerners forgiven those that trespassed against them? Where it has been impossible to hunt down and kill foes -- real or imaginary -- the West has slapped punitive sanctions on those that transgressed against them? Cuba, pre-invasion Iraq, Iran, Zimbabawe, and North Korea are some of the countries that are under one form of sanction or the other for offending the all-powerful West.


No comments:

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb