Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court (ICC), visited four African nations last week to assure African leaders that his court was not singling out Africans. However, that is a tough case to make, and it does not appear he was able to change minds on this trip.
The current ICC indictments and trials all involve Africans: Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan and the Central African Republic. In DRC, there are three cases. Germain Katanga, chief of staff for the Patriotic Force of Resistance, and Mathieu Ngudjolo, chief of staff for the Front for National Integration, are about to go on trial by September for the killing of UN peacekeepers and other war crimes. Two other cases are pending.
Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Oti and three other rebel group members were indicted by the ICC. Investigations of war crimes in the Central African Republic are underway. However, the most talked-about case involves Sudan, where the ICC indicted President Omar Bashir, government official Ahmed Harun and Janjawid leader Ali Kushayb; rebel commander Bahar Idriss Abu Garda turned himself in.
While Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Central African Republic President François Bozize cooperated in the indictments and investigations in their countries, the inability of the ICC to arrest indicted persons or quickly withdraw charges to help peace negotiations makes the ICC a blunt weapon in the eyes of some Africans. Moreover, there are rumors of investigations of Ethiopia, Chad, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and the ICC acknowledges looking into Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya. Even considering current ICC investigations into Columbia, Georgia and Afghanistan, clearly the focus is on African wrongdoing.
That is not to say that those indicted or investigated don’t deserve the international community’s attention in this way, but Africans ask why so many atrocities elsewhere are not being addressed as diligently as in Africa. Surely Africa is not the only place in which people are being killed or abused. Of course, likely indictees like Pol Pot of Cambodia or Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia either died before being brought to justice by the ICC or were dealt with by other courts. Still, the apparent emphasis on Africa makes Africans regret their initial support for the ICC. Thirty of the court’s 108 member states are African, and except for Sudan, the leaders of the countries now involved in ICC cases have cooperated with the court, whereas UN Security Council members China, Russia and the United States refuse to join the ICC.
According to the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, the ICC “is helping to inhibit potential conflicts because war lords as well as state actors who engage and use non-conventional methods in prosecuting their war objectives know that it will only be a matter of time before they are brought before an appropriate court.” That may be true, but even the innocent in Africa might feel a bit better if more non-Africans were also brought before an appropriate court.