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February 2, 2009

Problems with the ICC? Ah, I see

By Spear's

I love politics, but it can break my heart faster than any man.

I love politics, but it can break my heart faster than any man. My latest heartbreak is The Hague’s spanking new International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent tribunal for war crimes.

This baby had a difficult birth, as many of the more powerful and war-mongering countries (including the US, India, Russia and China) did not sign onto it and so are not under its jurisdiction.

Three of these countries are of course used to getting their political and military way, as they are also permanent members of the UN Security Council and therefore have veto power over any UN resolution that seeks to interfere in their conflicts.

Yet I could not help falling in love with the idea of a permanent ICC. Throughout my more serious writings, during and since my doctorate, I often argued that the failure to have a serious supranational organization to punish war criminals and genocidaires ensures that genocides and other war crimes continue to take place, as there will be nothing to discourage them.

Insofar as the failure of such institutions is therefore part of the cause of these catastrophes, their failure is a significant moral failure – and it is our moral failure, of all those who do nothing to stop it – that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

So I was enthralled this week by the ICC’s inaugural trial: of a Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga of the Union of Congolese Patriots, who used child soldiers in the conflict in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

This particular trial is near to my heart, as I spearheaded the UNICEF campaign against child soldiers in 2001, and continued to campaign for UNICEF’s causes for years more. However, the opening day on 28 January did not bode well.

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Aside from the technical teething problems of a malfunctioning microphone that forced the first prosecution witness (a child soldier) to repeat his oath three times, there was the rather damning procedural problem of the star witness recanting his testimony after the consequences of his testimony were explained to him (he could still be prosecuted in his home country) and after his full identity was revealed in an open court full of people who could still hurt his family back home. Shambolic, really, as any Law & Order fan could have foreseen the consequences.

This is no television fiction, however, but an underreported tragedy. The court’s first prosecutor, Luís Moreno Ocampo from Argentina, spent six years investigating four African conflicts, and he hopes to bring the first indictment against a sitting head of state in President al-Bashir of Sudan for crimes in Darfur.

Other potential defendants watching the trial with great personal interest will be the Tutsi warlord Laurent Nikunda and Zimbabwean President Mugabe, whose greatest fear is said to be ending up in the dock at The Hague.

If the court fails to prosecute Luganda through some systemic flaw or prosecutorial incompetence, not only will the current criminals go unpunished, but we can expect the devastation of millions more lives in the future, while the Luganda trial fades into oblivion.

If, however, the current trial goes well and results in prosecution and suitable punishment (though I cannot imagine what that might be), then it really will be the dawn of a new age – one where we can finally enjoy an upside of globalization: global justice.
Whether the world’s media will notice, however, is another matter.

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