World war crimes court marks 10 years

2012-03-13 12:09

The Hague - A decade after it was set up to try the world's worst war crimes, the International Criminal Court evokes strong responses with some hailing it and others branding it a tool of the winning forces.

For Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's chief prosecutor, it is a "respected global institution", but critics say the Hague-based ICC dispenses punishment only to losers in conflicts.

"When I started, people said we could not do it, we would never have a case in court," Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview on the eve of the ICC's first judgement since being called into life in July 2002.

"We now investigate in seven countries, we have people in prison, we are a court, we are normal," Moreno-Ocampo said ahead of the judges' verdict in the case of Democratic Republic of Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga.

Lubanga, aged 51, is one of 20 suspects against whom arrest warrants have been issued to appear in The Hague. He will learn his fate on Wednesday, facing charges of recruiting child soldiers under 15 years to fight in his militia.

Considered to be a minor catch for the ICC and imprisoned in 2006, Lubanga has also been joined in a Hague prison by two other Congolese rebel leaders, as well as Democratic Republic of Congo former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba.

15 procedures pending

Last year, the suspects at the tribunal's detention unit received a new addition: Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo.

Fifteen procedures are now pending before the ICC, the world's first permanent international criminal tribunal to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It held 321 hearings last year in three trials or pre-trial preparations.

More than 4 000 victims, many of them of ethnic violence, have taken part in proceedings before the court, which employs about 700 people and has a budget of €108m for this year.

"The court has become a globally respected institution," said Argentinian prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo, due to end his mandate in June. His deputy, Fatou Bensouda of Ghana, is set to take over the reins.

So far 120 countries have signed up to the Rome Statute and pledged to work with the court.

"We cannot attend a single meeting in New York where at one point or another the ICC is not being mentioned," a diplomatic source at the UN said.

No police

"The added value of the court is its legitimacy and its impartiality," the source said.

But there was a flip side, the source said.

"There lies the whole challenge for the future: Some countries would like to chose their suspects and decide themselves which arrest warrants should be executed.

"Already, nobody lifts a finger to arrest [Sudanese President] Omar al-Bashir," the source added.

Wanted by the ICC for genocide, Bashir continues to cock a snook at the ICC as he travels the world in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, the source said.

The ICC does not have its own police force and is dependent on the goodwill of member states to nab suspects.

Probes only on Africa

It has garnered strong support from global NGOs, but also some criticism.

"We regret that all investigations are conducted in Africa," said Karine Bonneau of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The African investigations were justified, added Human Rights Watch's Geraldine Mattioli, but it did hurt the court's legitimacy that some viewed it as a "tool of Western powers".

"The prosecution's strategy sometimes seems inadequate," Mattioli added.

For instance, only rebel leaders are being prosecuted for abuses in the DRC, "not the political and military leaders in Uganda, Rwanda and Kinshasa who have used these armed groups", she said.

"The court must do better in demonstrating that those in power can be targeted," said Goran Sluiter, an international criminal law professor at Amsterdam University.

Powerful tool

"In many situations those who have lost the conflict are being charged."

He said the ICC was today however being recognised as a "permanent institution and a very, very powerful tool".

"Somebody like [Syrian leader] Bashar Assad in Syria should be very afraid. It may be safe today and tomorrow, but who knows? Maybe in two of four years' time if there is a regime change and Syria submits the case, he could be at the ICC."

  • Fidel - 2012-03-13 14:16

    The International Criminal Court created with high hopes of international justice in 2002 is a joke. It has never examined U.S. drone attacks on defenseless civilians in at least 8 African, Arab and South Asian countries. Nor has it even touched U.S. invasions and occupations. Israeli bombing of the Palestinian people is “off limits”. The act of bombing other peoples cities in unprovoked attacks was what the ICC was set up to prosecute - and hopefully, put a curb on. But of course, they've been shown up to be another tool in the imperialist box and will only indict you if you're not part of the Coalition Of The Killing. If the ICC were not a puppet of the western powers, then arrest warrants for the wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan would have been issued. Instead, ICC goes after whomever Washington and its partners want. Claiming to transcend national laws and boundaries established by democratic procedures, the ICC is a troublesome actor that threatens peace and security around the world. Until Bush and Blair are put on trial there, the abbreviation ICC stands for Intrinsically Colonialist Court.

      Anthony - 2012-03-13 16:51

      The ICC, HAS done some important work, and has brought criminals from Eastern Europe and Africa to its courts. I fully agree Bush and Blair should also be arrested and transferred to The Hague. But in that case, than the same must count to some of the Russian and Chinese leaders , and explain their crimes against humanity !!!! Or do you just want one sided justice ????

      Fidel - 2012-03-13 17:01

      The act of bombing other peoples cities in UNPROVEKED attacks was what the ICC was set up to prosecute. How does China and Russia fit this criterea?

      Anthony - 2012-03-13 17:19

      Like with most cases, you just make this up. This court is to handle, " crimes against humanity " For instance, that's why Charles Taylor is there. To my knowledge, he did not bomb any city !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And by the way, the influence of the USA, in this court is minimal, they don't even recognize the ICC!!!

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