by Tania Deigni on 21 Sep 2012 | Comments
4,262,720 lives in 4 conflicts
The long-lasting victimization of Africa and its people, spanning from slavery and colonialism to present-day subjugations, has led to great social, economic, and political devastation. 800,000 men, women, and children faced death at the hands of the Rwandan genocide; up to 461,520 people are believed to have died in the Darfur conflict; around 3 million people have perished in the DRC; close to 1200 people are estimated dead and disappeared in the most recent 2010 Cote d’Ivoire conflict; to name a few of the devastations that have ravished the continent.
From east to west, north to south, Africa – thought to be the cradle of life, the birthplace of human beings – has increasingly also become a cradle of death, bloodshed, and unfathomable atrocities.
Rome and Africa
The countless conflicts that marred the twentieth century led to the international community crying out to put an end to impunity for crimes. In 1998, strengthened and inspired by the Nuremberg trials, representatives from over 160 governments participated in the “Rome Conference” during which negotiations took place to establish an international criminal court to try individual perpetrators of atrocity crimes. The majority (120 states) voted in favor of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, and thus opened it for signature and ratification.
African states were instrumental in the negations and adoption of the Rome Statute, as well as in ratifying the treaty and adding to the necessary number of states for the treaty to go into effect, which it did on 1 July 2002. While this demonstrated a commitment by African states to uphold the rule of law and end impunity for the worst crimes, it would be naïve to discount that some leaders may have joined the treaty to improve their international affairs standing and to be seen as espousing such virtues as rule of law and proper governance in order to increase their favorable outlook and standing to aid donors and various financial institutions.
The ICC and Africa
Regardless of their motives, to date, 33 African states have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute, representing the second largest regional group at the Court (after Europe, with 42 states). These 33 governments have thus formally taken a stand and commitment in the fight against impunity and in respecting the rule of law, particularly as established under the Rome Statute.
Of these 33 states, 3 governments (Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Central African Republic) referred their states to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to investigate crimes committed on their territories. Furthermore, the UN Security Council referred the situations of Libya and Darfur, Sudan to the ICC OTP, and ICC judges authorized former Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to open formal investigations in the situations of Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya.
While the ICC is also reportedly analyzing a number of other situations on different continents, it has not opened any formal investigations into these situations. Thus, the ICC’s current formal investigations and trials are all centered on Africa, which has been a valid point of disgruntlement and contention toward the Court. Despite this, it is important to understand the need for justice in the situations currently before the Court. The Court’s jurisdiction and activities should not be pitted as a regional highlight; rather, they should be seen as rendering justice where justice is needed.
Prescriptions: African governments and the AU
Despite the different opportunities vested in African states on a national, regional, and international level to challenge impunity and conflict through various nonviolent means, enormous challenges still provide a curtailment to the rendering of justice and establishment of peace.
Governments and parliaments in countries emerging from or submerged in conflict must fight harder to combat impunity (e.g. by ensuring the fruition and establishment of fair and independent judiciaries, comprehensive laws, etc.) and to restore peace to the people. While justice does not take away a crime, it appeases victims and communities in knowing that there was a form of retribution for a crime committed. Therefore, it is imperative for actors (including government, civil society, and other groups) to fight for such justice and laws to end impunity, starting at a grassroots level.
In addition, a form of compensation should be provided to victims of atrocity crimes. This is acknowledged in the Rome Statute through the establishment of the Victims’ Unit and the entitlement of victims to reparations if the perpetrator(s) is found guilty. Thus, it should not be hard to absorb this concept on a national and regional level in Africa.
Instead of trying to impede the rendering of justice by protecting abusive leaders (particularly through certain decisions of non-cooperation with the ICC), the African Union (AU) should encourage cooperation among national, regional, and international organizations committed to ending impunity for grave crimes. The AU, with its pooled wealth, could and should provide a fund for victims of atrocity crimes, thereby truly uniting as a regional body to protect humanity, conquer devastation, and lift up the continent and its people. In all instances and opportunities, the AU should uphold its very own principles, especially as espoused under Article 4 of its Constitutive Act and particularly as regards Article 4(o): “respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities.”
The work of the ICC in Africa has both been welcomed (by those viewing it as a welcomed judicial mechanism) and shunned (some viewing it as a Western imperialist institution). Regardless, it is a departure from the past, a point of hope. Current Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia has her work cut out for her in Africa, but it is my hope that she renders justice to victims of crimes in other countries as well. In doing so, not only would she be abating some of the criticism vis-à-vis the ICC and Africa, but more importantly, she would be leading the ICC OTP in its true essence and purpose: to provide justice to all victims of atrocity crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Tania Deigni obtained a BA in Political Science from the University of Florida, currently pursuing nursing studies. Previously held positions, include Program Assistant to the Regional Section at the CICC.