ICC won’t bow to politicians

2012-06-09 11:32

To say ICC has ‘an Africa bias’ offends victims – ICC prosecutor

A few years ago, the Ambassador of Costa Rica to the UN explained why his country was so active in the UN Security Council on the issue of Darfur and why Costa Rica had shown leadership on an issue apparently so far from its interests: “There are 26 countries with no armed forces in the world; Costa Rica is the biggest among them.”

Costa Rica was saying it promoted the rule of law on an international level as a non-military alternative to achieving domestic security.

To tap the full potential of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to assist in this we have to maximise its preventive impact around the globe.

The answers to how to stop the genocide in Darfur, or to prevent a new cycle of violence during the next elections in Kenya, lie with the court’s preventive impact.

The case of Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba illustrates this point.

It is the first case the international criminal justice system has addressed where allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber allegations of killings.

It is also the first trial before the court that concerns “command responsibility”: a commander’s failure to act can result in unimaginable atrocities.

According to our (the prosecution’s) evidence, Jean-Pierre Bemba failed in his responsibility to prevent and stop his militia forces from using rape as a primary weapon of war.

The outcome of Bemba’s trial will establish the difference between a military commander and a criminal.

When efforts to prevent crimes have failed, the law is a fundamental tool to redress the grievances of victims.

Yet again and again, we hear criticism about our so-called “focus on Africa” and about the court being an “African court”.

Anti-ICC elements have been working very hard to discredit the court and lobby for non-support, doing this with complete disregard for legal arguments.

What offends me most when I hear criticism about this so-called “Africa bias” is how quick we are to focus on the words and propaganda of a few powerful, influential individuals, and to forget about the millions of anonymous people who suffer because of their crimes.

Indeed, the greatest affront to the victims of such brutal crimes – women and young girls raped, families brutalised and robbed of everything, entire communities terrorised and shattered – is to see the powerful individuals responsible trying to portray themselves as victims of a “pro-Western”, “anti-African”, court.
Justice, real justice, is not a pick-and-choose system.

To be effective, to be just, and to have a lasting impact, justice has to be guided solely by law and evidence.
Our focus is on individual criminal behaviour against innocent victims.

My focus is on Joseph Kony, Bosco Ntaganda, Ahmed Haroun and Omar al-Bashir.

The office of the prosecutor will go where victims need us.

No one will divert me from the course of justice.

The world increasingly understands the role of the court; Africa understood it right from the start.

As Africans, we know that impunity is not an academic, abstract notion. This commitment to ending impunity is a reality.

Political leaders can lead efforts for international justice by supporting the ICC: South Africa refused to invite al-Bashir to the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma in 2009; Botswana and President Ian Khama have consistently expressed strong support for the court’s work; and recently the foreign affairs minister of Zambia stated that al-Bashir would “regret the day he was born” if he tried to go to Zambia.

These countries are showing leadership.

The ICC sets a very clear and basic limit: violence cannot be used to gain or retain power.

We can already see the positive effects of the court. It is affecting the behaviour of governments and political leaders; armies are adjusting their operational standards; and conflict managers and peace mediators are refining their strategies, respecting the legal limits.

The ICC is a powerful new tool to control violence in the world, to deter crimes, and to promote national proceedings, but it can only be successful if we never yield to politicians who think they can decide when to unplug us.

» This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Bensouda, the chief prosecutor-elect of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, at the OpenForum 2012 in Cape Town

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