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The International Criminal Court and Africa

September 15, 2010 // 10:00am11:30am
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Of the five cases currently being reviewed by the International Criminal Court (ICC), all are based on alleged war crimes committed in African countries. The list of countries involved in ongoing trials includes Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and, most recently, Sudan. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the first prosecutor for the ICC spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center on September 15 at an event organized by the Africa Program of the Wilson Center, Amnesty International and Citizens for Global Solutions.

Throughout his remarks, Prosecutor Ocampo emphasized what his role is as the prosecutor of the ICC as well as the international role of the ICC, insisting that he is simply carrying out the Court's mandate as agreed upon and ratified by 113 countries across the world. In Africa, the DRC, Uganda, the CAR and Kenya all requested the assistance of the ICC in prosecuting the war crimes committed. In the case of Sudan, it was from the intervention and mandate of the Security Council of the United Nations that the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed in Sudan.

The Pulitzer Center did an interview with Prosecutor Ocampo at the Wilson Center directly following the public event. The following include highlights of the interview.

The jurisdiction of the ICC only includes war crimes committed since the inception of the Court in 2002; its mandate provides support to regions where impunity against war crimes is a threat to the legitimacy of a country's jurisprudence. In Uganda, the case is focused on violence against the population perpetrated by the Lord's Resistance Army, the LRA. Originally the LRA was given safe haven in Sudan, but not before Kony had been used by President al-Bashir to attack Sudanese in the South of Sudan. Kony was forced to leave the country when the ICC began its investigations.

Kony is also responsible for killing over 300,000 people in the DRC, where ongoing investigations by the ICC are investigating these crimes as well as rapes and killings committed by other war lords. A resolution recently passed by the US Congress encouraging the arrest of Joseph Kony is one example of how non-signatory countries can backstop the efforts of the ICC despite their non-member status.

In the Central African Republic, rapes are more common than killings; men as well as women have been targeted, and in some cases, the rapes have been public. Ocampo explained that to rape a man, especially publically, is an attempt to prove that the victims are even less powerful than the women in the community. This is the ultimate form of humiliation. Jean Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former President and Commander in chief of the "Mouvement de Libération du Congo" (MLC), is the first suspect and the first detainee in the situation of the CAR. His trial, originally scheduled for July of 2010 has been postponed due to a pending appeal.

The court case in Kenya is addressing the post-election violence that took place in December 2007 and January 2008. The egregious display of violence during this time was as a direct result of the contested election, and was characterized by a severe ethnic divide. The ICC trial is intended not only to prosecute and bring to justice perpetrators of violence after the 2007 elections, but also to prevent election violence during or after the upcoming elections in 2012.

The most recently-opened case that Ocampo is investigating is in Sudan. Because Sudan is not a member country of the ICC, the jurisdiction of the ICC to try this case comes from a request from the UN Security Council. Thousands of documents from the UN inquiry into war crimes in Sudan are being used by Ocampo, including investigations into mental and physical harm against Sudanese citizens, the conditions in the displaced persons camps, and intent by war lords to both harm and displace the Sudanese people for political purposes. The arrest warrant against Sudanese president al-Bashir is the first example of an ICC indictment against a sitting president, and there has been some talk about what affect this might have both on his legitimacy as a leader and on the ability of the ICC to investigate al-Bashir. Whereas previous arrest warrants, such as the one against Joseph Kony, were hindered by the Court's inability to actually find the indicted person, the international community and the Court are well aware of al-Bashir's whereabouts. Bashir is the president of Sudan, yet a fugitive in his own right.

Investigations are also surrounding Ahmed Haroun who served incongruously as the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs until May of 2009. Under this title, Haroun was left responsible for the well-being of nearly two million internally displaced people. Despite his security-related position, Haroun has been accused by the Court of murder, forcible transfer of population, rape, and torture, to name a few of his twenty counts. Haroun's current position in southern Sudan causes many players to publicly worry that another mass killing will begin in southern Sudan. Every member of the Court has signed an agreement to arrest Haroun, but obstacles similar to those in the case of al-Bashir remain.

Following Ocampo's remarks on the ICC's investigations in Africa, Don Kraus, the Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for Global Solutions, spoke about the United States' roles and policies regarding the ICC, despite having a non-member status. Even though the ICC remains a contentious topic through the country, the U.S. is still able to play a significant role in apprehending war criminals and preventing further intolerable crimes. The political will and legal means do exist, as we have seen exemplified in the ratification of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in the House and Senate this past May. We must continue to remain aware of humanitarian crimes and take advantage of our role as an observer by offering logistical, political, and technical support as needed, all while keeping track of the countries we offer resources to and how those dispensations link to our enforcement of human rights.

During the question and answer session, Ocampo addressed the he pending arrest of Haroun, stating that despite complications surrounding Haroun's arrest and his relationship to Bashir, Ocampo had the choice to either ignore the evidence regarding Haroun or present the significant case to the Court. In response to a question about the current situation in Egypt, referring to their status as a non-member state, Ocampo responded that his has been impressed with the discussions and cooperation of many Arab states, but he also noted that he can only offer impartiality because the ICC has no power to convince any nation to join Court. Each country must make the decision to sign the Treaty on their own accord.

A number of questions were asked about the repercussions of the ICC's work and involvement, specifically with regard to tribal issues in Kenya and the north/south divide in Sudan. Ocampo's repeated response was to remind the audience about his sole duty is to use the evidence that has been presented to him to prosecute those who have already committed offenses. Though it is important to carefully monitor the overall security and climate in those regions in which the ICC is involved, the importance of justice for those involved is the most pertinent.

In response to some final questions, Prosecutor Ocampo emphasized the importance of the Court's responsibility to intervene in and ultimately prevent crimes against humanity, though his capacity to do so is limited to the 113 countries who have signed the Treaty, the cooperation of the UN Security Council, and by the date of July 1, 2002 that marks the day after which crimes committed can be considered in the ICC.

Ocampo concluding by drawing a comparison between the difficulties of the Court's work to the obstacles faced by someone who has recently decided to quit smoking: the struggle is a complicated one, but it is important and necessary for the greater interests of those involved.

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