Monday, December 21, 2009

Does the ICC unfairly ‘target’ African countries?

Sunday Nation 20 December 2009

The involvement of the International Criminal Court in the investigation on the violence that rocked Kenya following the last General Election has raised quite a storm both within the country and on the African continent as a whole.

At least one Kenyan politician has gone on record to indicate that she believes she is one of those in the ICC’s sights notwithstanding her protestations of innocence.

Since its inception, the court has indicted mostly African leaders for various international crimes, and after the high-profile indictment of the Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, accusations were made that the court is a neo-colonial creature aimed at putting Africans in their place.

Similar allegations have been made by Kenyan politicians who have lately taken to urging Kenyans to seek a “homegrown” solution to our problems.

After initially depicting the ICC as too slow to take any meaningful action against perpetrators of last year’s violence, the politicians are now dismissing the court and its Chief Prosecutor, Mr Moreno-Ocampo, as an intolerable intrusion into our sovereign affairs.

The African Union, whose leadership is made up of many potential ICC indictees, has made it clear that it does not support the ICC’s attempts to chastise wayward leaders who commit unspeakable crimes against their own people.

Clearly, a case is being built up to the effect that Africa is being maligned once again as part of a larger conspiracy to recolonise the continent.

It is therefore important for us to examine in some detail this assertion that the ICC unfairly targets African countries. It is true that the most prominent people being pursued for involvement in international crimes hail from the continent.

Indeed, it is true that the ICC has maintained a rather sharp focus on African countries, and is often quick to open investigations whenever an event occurs on African soil.

Many have argued that more developed countries have committed and continue to commit crimes worse than any they may pin on an African tyrant.

The invasion of Iraq by Western powers and the conflict between Israel and Palestinians are commonly cited as good hunting grounds for war criminals that have been neglected by the ICC in favour of the relatively easy pickings in Africa.

The question that proponents of this argument need to answer is whether the ICC’s attention on Africa is actually unfair.

When one commits a crime and is arraigned in a court of law, he cannot use the argument that his prosecution is unfair because many others commit the same crime and are not similarly prosecuted.

The commission of the crime alone is sufficient reason for one to be prosecuted and, if found guilty, to bear the punishment prescribed in law.

Politicians who are arguing that the ICC is targeting Africans unfairly are therefore unwittingly admitting that Africans are indeed committing crimes against humanity and other international crimes that warrant the attention the ICC is giving them.

The ICC’s presence would not matter in a country that is running its affairs peacefully according to its own laws as well as international law.

A country with a functioning legal justice system that fairly and consistently punishes all wrong-doers would have nothing to worry about even if the ICC prosecutor set up camp in its back yard.

The reason African despots are expressing such sentiments about the ICC is that many of them are guilty. Many have presided over de jure and de facto dictatorships whose modus operandi has involved actions that would land them in trouble in any civilised society.

Others have acquired power through dubious means, and to remain in charge, they have had to use inordinate amounts of force that pass the threshold of crimes against humanity.

It is not uncommon to hear African politicians referring to African peculiarities as justification for the authoritarian rule they subject their people to.

Indeed, many ordinary citizens agree with the view that Africans need a firm hand at the till in order to stabilise the nation, with reference being made to “benevolent dictators” and “gentle tyrants”.

This kind of thinking only serves to perpetuate the image of an African as some sort of savage who needs a certain amount of violence to control. There is no reason this same thinking would not be applied to Africans living in the Diaspora.

It is my contention therefore that it is African countries that continue to attract the attention of the ICC through actions of leaders that put us to shame on the international stage.

Instead of accusing the international community of unfair intrusion into our sovereign business, it is imperative that we clean up our politics and conduct ourselves in ways that do not invite such intrusion.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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