The International Criminal Court (ICC) has, perhaps, attracted more negative media coverage than ever in the passing years, due to its supposed bias in African cases. However, the promotion of peace and prevention of conflict worldwide remains the priority of the world court, as has come to light this week.
A central role of the ICC has become to obliterate impunity in Africa in the pursuit of worldwide justice. The significant proportion of African cases in the ICC has prompted criticism from the African Union, claiming that there is an increasing bias that is fuelling antipathy toward Western systems of punishment. Questions have been raised by African nations, namely Uganda, who resent the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) combatants’ trial in the ICC, and, as a whole, would prefer to achieve retribution via traditional methods. This response by the Ugandan community exemplifies that desire for empowerment in achieving their own sense of justice, rather than by a court case in the ICC. In order to respect the wishes of the people of Uganda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Benouda has issued a compromise by only prosecuting Joseph Kony and Dominic Ongwen from the LRA. Benouda’s decision to encourage the remaining combatants to defect from the ICC case is symbolic of the need to integrate traditional methods of justice and create a more fluid system of accountability in the international justice system.
Accountability for grievous crimes has become the priority of the ICC in Africa, as they are acting, not out of bias, but out of a genuine belief in increasing justice and peace worldwide. Such measures can be achieved in Africa as nations have ratified the Rome Statute, which is the treaty that established the world court in 2002. However, no action can be implemented in regards to North Korea and Syria’s human rights abuses and war crimes, as the two countries are not signatories of the Rome Statute. This severely inhibits the effectiveness of the ICC in promoting accountability and popularizes the perception that African nations have become a target of the International Criminal Court.
State sovereignty, thus, appears to be a significant weakness of the modern states’ system as nations have the right to remain autonomous of their domestic affairs. The jurisdiction and functioning of the ICC has, therefore, been a victim of misinterpretation since its establishment in 2002, as it is assumed that Africa is the sole focus in its legal proceedings. Furthermore, the assumption that the United Nations Security Council controls the cases of the ICC is futile, as three of the P5 members are not signatories of the Rome Statute. The fact that the United States of America, Russia, and China are not affiliated with the world court substantially diminishes the hegemonic powers’ ability to influence the ICC.
The African Group for Justice and Accountability is currently seeking to improve the African Union’s fractured relationship with the International Criminal Court in an attempt to both increase accountability and sustained periods of peace in the region. The independent organization affirms that African nations should be allies of the ICC and support the cases in order to prevent future conflicts. The ICC is only a fraction of the equation needed to promote peace and prevent conflict. However, its current focus on the African region should be viewed positively as a good step in the pursuit of worldwide justice.