Speaking to journalists from West Africa Anglophone countries, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, emphasized the supremacy of the Rome Statute stating that those who have committed heinous crimes outlawed by the Statute would not escape the Court's jurisdiction. The Chief Prosecutor stated that the Statute was enacted to safeguard people and groups of people from some of the world's atrocious crimes and the court still holds firmly to that resolve.
Speaking on behalf of the Court, she noted that the Court says hopes to re-invent its somewhat tarnished image by challenging the historically entrenched standard of impunity for crimes against humanity that are committed across the world by people in positions of power and influence.
In the recent past, the Court has received a massive backlash from African leaders who view it as a western tool used to destabilise governments in Africa. The most outspoken of these leaders were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who accused the Court of having double standards when it comes to taking up cases and prosecuting accused persons.
At the time, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate Deputy President William Ruto had been accused of facilitating the 2007/08 post-election violence in Kenya that resulted in ethnic targeting, rape, and the deaths of more than 500,000 people. The two challenged the court's standards by asking the reason why the Court was slow to prosecute western leaders accused of similar or even more heinous crimes yet they were trigger happy to prosecute African leaders. Their vocal attacks against the Court earned them tremendous sympathy not only from a sizeable chunk of the Kenyan population but also other African leaders.
Despite the two leaders successfully beating the charges, the seeds of discordant against the Court had already been sowed. A good majority of African leaders have since then toyed with the idea of withdrawing from the Rome Statute arguing that it aids them not. The ICC warrant of arrest against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been open for a while but no African leader worth their salt will turn him in anytime soon. Hence the reason why many have gone to the extent of taunting the court as a toothless bulldog.
It is worth noting that the Court's credibility and legitimacy rest on its acceptance by the leaders who have ratified the Rome Statute. An en masse withdrawal would simply cripple the Court and lead to its imminent collapse. The fact that the United States of America (USA) which is the world's most publicised proponent of human rights (yet a subtle violator of those same rights) has not ratified the Statute truly speaks volumes. It is one of the reasons that has propelled many African countries to contemplate withdrawing from the Statute and by extension the Court.
One African President was once quoted saying:
The court is the western leaders' tool to keep us in check."
Despite the backlash that the ICC has received, Bensouda remains optimistic. While she concedes that not every person or group will back the work of the Court, she believes that but there are still a few well-meaning people across the world who have vowed not to support impunity and to continue supporting the Court's operations to end impunity.
We remain committed to our independent and impartial mandate under the Rome Statute, and will continue to honour our legal duty, undeterred,” she affirmed.
The ICC is Solid - Is it really?
According to Bensouda, the deliberate attempts by various groups and leaders to undermine the Court's credibility is not a new phenomenon in their line of work. ICC is fully aware of the well-funded or coordinated campaigns to spread fallacies and falsehoods against it but it will continue to remain undeterred in the discharge of its functions. She hopes that the Court can work with the media to educate and disabuse the minds of people so as to demystify the operations of the court and debunk the falsehoods that have been spread against it.
The ICC is convinced that disseminating truthful and factual information as regards its complex and intricate criminal processes by increasing accessibility to affected communities, stakeholders, and the public at large will greatly cement its credibility.
I am sure you might have read or seen about developments such as the acquittal and subsequent release with conditions of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude in relation to the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, or in the appearance of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaisonna and subsequent scheduling of a confirmation hearing in the case emanating from more investigations in the Central African Republic,” she revealed.
The Prosecutor seems unfazed by the recent public statement by the US Secretary of State announcing policy visa restrictions against ICC personnel. With onslaughts from various segments of the society, the court's future seems to hand in the balance. Whether or not the Court will survive only time will tell.
Cases before the Court
While there are other cases before the court, the ones that are of particular interest to the continent are:
- The ongoing trial proceedings against the Congolese warlord, Bosco Ntaganda, who is awaiting the verdict of the ICC judges;
- The case against Domnic Ongwen, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) brigade commander, whose defence is currently responding to the case presented by the prosecution.
- The case of Al-Hassan, relating to events in Timbuktu, Mali, which is being prepared for a hearing set to commence on the 6th of May 2019 to confirm the charges brought against him by the Prosecutor’s office.
Credit: Fatou Bensouda Speaks to West African Journalists /Photo: Richard Nyarko