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July-August 2010
Vol. 35, No. 4


International Criminal Court Review Conference

From May 31 to June 11, about 4,600 people attended the first Review Conference for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Kampala, Uganda to assess implementation thus far of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC on July 1, 2002. The ICC now has 111 state parties, 18 judges, and field offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad. It is conducting investigations in the DRC, Uganda, CAR, Kenya and Sudan, and has issued 13 arrest warrants for eight cases.

An article by Samar Al-Bulushi and Adam Branch published in Pambazuka News described some of the challenges facing the court: “The fact that it has prosecuted only Africans has provoked charges of neocolonialism and racism; its decision to indict certain actors and not others has triggered suspicion of the court’s susceptibility to power politics; and its interventions into ongoing armed conflicts have elicited accusations that the ICC is pursuing its own brand of justice at the cost of enflaming war and disregarding the interests of victims.”

The conference, according to IRIN, was characterized by “lively debates on the impact of the Rome Statute on survivors and affected communities; complementarity, cooperation, peace and justice; and the crime of aggression …” In fact, it adopted a resolution by which it amended the Rome Statute to include a definition of the crime of aggression and the conditions under which the Court could exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime.

Some civil society organizations called on states that have signed the Rome Statute to enact comprehensive implementing legislation, making genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity crimes under domestic law and providing for cooperation with the ICC. Others called for the promotion of victims’ rights, including compensation, and insisted that the court be even-handed in the application of justice.

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, said. “When I meet Africans from all walks of life, they demand justice: from their own courts if possible, from international courts if no credible alternative exists,” he said. “The ICC does not supplant the authority of national courts. Rather, it is a court of last resort, governed by the principle of complementarity.”

As the conference began, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “We are witnessing the birth of a new age of accountability. We hope to take stock of the Court’s progress and strengthen it for the future.” He hailed the presence in Kampala of the U.S., saying, “I understand the U.S. is very seriously reviewing its decisions,” he added, referring to the Bush administration’s strong opposition to the ICC. (IRIN)

The United States participated in the conference as a non-state party for the first time, which many who support the court, including the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, saw as a step in the right direction. But, according to Al-Bulushi and Branch, one form of increased cooperation by the U.S. with the ICC would be of great concern.

About the challenge of enforcement, they write, “[T]here is another aspect of the court’s role in Africa that will require scrutiny going forward: enforcement. Lacking its own enforcement mechanism, the court relies upon cooperating states to execute its arrest warrants. The ICC has found, however, that many states, even if willing to cooperate, often lack the capacity to execute warrants, especially in cases of ongoing conflict or when suspects can cross international borders…. out of 13 arrest warrants issued, only four suspects are in custody. Apparently, having concluded that African states are either unwilling or unable to act quickly or forcefully enough to apprehend suspects, the court has begun to seek support from the one country that has shown itself willing and able to wield military force across the globe: the United States.”

The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and Special Adviser to the Prosecutor Béatrice Le Fraper du Hellen have both expressed their interest in U.S. assistance with the arrest of sought war criminals, including Sudan’s President al-Bashir, Joseph Kony in Uganda, and Bosco Ntaganda in the DRC. 

The U.S. has declared its interest in cooperating with the court as a non-state party observer, for example, by supporting the particular prosecutions that are already underway or (as suggested in a recent Council on Foreign Relations report) by “boosting its cooperation with the court in such areas as training, funding, the sharing of intelligence and evidence and the apprehension of suspects.”

Al-Bulushi and Branch continue, “This proposed alliance between the U.S. military and the ICC has elicited little reaction from the human rights community despite the devastating consequences it may produce. At heart is the question of what it will mean for justice and the rule of law if the ICC comes to rely heavily on the military capacity of a single state – a state with its own military agenda and interests in Africa – as its enforcement arm, in particular when that state declares itself above the very law it claims to enforce … . But the price paid by the ICC will be trivial compared to the very dangerous possibility that this alliance could help justify and expand U.S. militarization in Africa, in particular in conjunction with AFRICOM (Africa Command), at a dramatic cost to peace and justice in the continent.” We echo their concern.

Read their entire article at Pambazuka News #483.

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