African backlash against international courts rises
African lawyers meeting in Madrid say international courts are seen as biased. This perception undermines local African justice reform efforts.
MADRID – Look at the docket of International Criminal Court (ICC) cases and you would conclude that African states have been leaders in quickly adopting international justice standards and accepting global courts.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, most of the international justice cases are from Africa, with warlords and former and current heads of state accused of war crimes and the use of child soldiers.
While separate from the ICC, the Rwanda genocide tribunal in Tanzania, for example, led to a special tribunal for Sierra Leone for Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor. Sitting head of state Omar al-Bashir of Sudan faces an ICC indictment for war crimes in Darfur.
But now there’s a growing African political backlash against a wholesale acceptance of global justice, and the ICC specifically, that may undermine some of the progress in reforming judicial systems on the continent.
African lawyers, scholars, and human rights advocates at an international bar association meeting here in Madrid say that concerns of anti-African bias, are rising.
On the heels of the ICC indictment of Mr. Bashir, they describe an African perception that their adopted new standards are practiced by the West and North as “double standards.” They point to Hague courts filled mostly with African defendants, and describe a sharpening discourse in African nations that international justice is a neocolonial project.
“There is not a single case at the ICC that does not deserve to be there. But there are many cases that belong there, that aren’t there,” says Martin Ngogo, prosecutor general of Rwanda.
In an afternoon session at the Madrid bar association meeting called "Peace vs. Justice" – which was meant to address the contention that issuing ICC warrants for the arrest of African warlords and heads of state often scuppers peace deals – presenters mentioned a wide array of nefarious conduct in other parts of the world and wondered why more warlords from other continents are not hauled off to the Hague.
Most African states signed onto the Rome Statute – the 1998 treaty that established a universal court of criminal justice – opening up a new legal era, and unleashing new energy among ordinary lawyers on the continent. The ICC is a fallback court, intended to complement national judicial systems. It can only initiate a case when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes committed since July 1, 2002.
Despite rising criticism of the ICC, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga kept the door open for prosecution of those responsible for post-election violence in 2008. Such steps are described as part of a “historic process that none of us saw” little more than a decade ago, argues Hans Carrel, former legal counsel to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.