Published on Monday, March 9, 2009 by Inter Press Service
Legitimacy of Global Court Questioned Over
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - The ongoing political crisis in
(Flickr photo by pantagrapher used under Creative Commons license)
The beleaguered Sudanese president has threatened to expel diplomats from
At the same time, there is considerable speculation that some, or all, of the 30 African countries who are state parties (of a total of 108) to the
Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS the creation of the ICC was a major step forward in accountability for human rights atrocities.
"Withdrawal is not great for the court's legitimacy, but it is the
"It gives those states an excuse for questioning the court's legitimacy, especially when coupled with the court's failure to act against those from Western states," said Ratner, who is also an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University where he lectures on human rights litigation.
"Unless (Luis) Moreno-Ocampo (the Chief ICC Prosecutor) includes human rights violators from these states as seriously within his mandate, the court is in trouble," he said.
Last week's arrest warrant on al-Bashir charged him with war crimes in the strife-torn region of
Many international rights groups welcomed the announcement of the warrant against Bashir, who has been accused of orchestrating mass killings and ethnic cleansing of villages in the region though 'janjaweed' militias.
However, the much-heralded criminal court has so far put only one culprit on trial, Thomas Lubanga, a warlord from the Democratic
Of the 13 against whom warrants have been issued by the ICC, four are in custody, the rest are fugitives or presumed dead. All 13 are either from
The arrest warrant on al-Bashir was unprecedented because it was issued for the first time on a sitting head of state.
According to published figures, an estimated 300,000 people have died in
The deaths have occurred over the past five years. A group of rebels has been fighting government forces and their proxies, the Janjaweed Arab militia men, since 2003.
Still, a legitimate question that is being asked by some Africans defies answer: why is the ICC focusing mostly on African leaders and African warlords?
But supporters of the Court, including Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, say that active ICC investigations in Africa are not because of prosecutorial prejudice but because three of the countries involved (Central African Republic, DRC and Uganda) themselves requested ICC intervention.
But despite this defense, an African diplomat told IPS: "Still, aren't there any perceived war criminals in the
And more recently in
An indignant Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad described the international justice system as "Euro-American."
It's the same justice system, he said, that callously witnessed the destruction of
"America is an opportunist country," the Sudanese envoy said. "They want to use the ICC without being a party to it." In effect, he said,
At a U.N. press conference last week, he also challenged reporters to show him any photographs or television footage from Darfur that would equal the destruction of human lives and homes in
"Show me a single footage," he demanded of journalists, none of whom responded.
"It's a big lie. And lies have become a weapon of mass destruction in our situation," he added.
He also pointed out that the
At the recent conference in Sharm al-Shaik, the
"Did anybody ask who was accountable for this damage and destruction?"
The Western nations have been marginalized, both in oil exploration and arms supplies, by
The Sudanese government seems to have the political support of several powerful regional and international organizations: the African Union, the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, all of which collectively account for more than two-thirds of the U.N.'s 192 member states.
As a result, it is very unlikely that any country, particularly Arab or African, will follow up the ICC warrant by arresting al-Bashir if he lands on their soil.
The Sudanese president is expected to defy the ICC warrant by attending an upcoming summit meeting in
When Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch was asked about the double standards in the international justice system, he admitted there was no denying the fledgling system was "flawed" and the playing field was uneven - between Westerners and the rest of the world.
"But to those who said such tribunals would never indict an American or European leader, (the ICC) decision nevertheless showed that not even the president of a country was above the law. The work was how to correct the imperfections in the system."
Asked about ICC's double standards, Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights told IPS: "The court and some human rights groups seem to think that the best strategy is to go after the easy targets that don't have a lot of political power."
"As can be seen, this is a mistake. It is a short-sighted strategy that will delegitimise the court. It gives the weaker countries an excuse," he said.
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs
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