Tag Archives: international criminal court

From Pariah to Responsible: Sudan

Sudan Airways regularly ranks among the worst airlines in the world. The national carrier has only one working plane..The troubled airline, or rather, airplane, epitomizes some of the effects that two decades of American sanctions have had on Sudan…Most Western countries have shunned Sudan, making it hard for companies like Sudan Airways to procure parts or buy new planes from Boeing or Airbus. The airline’s general manager once described the sanctions as “hell.”The country’s economic isolation is about to end.

The Trump administration announced on October 6, 2017 that it would formally lift a host of sanctions, including a trade embargo, saying the Sudanese government had made progress on a number of issues, like cooperating on counterterrorism efforts and making modest improvements…

The United States is still keeping Sudan on its list of terrorism sponsors, which means it will not be granted debt relief, a major drag on the economy.

The Trump administration decision has provoked a backlash from some human rights groups…Amnesty International accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur in 2016, and there are ongoing skirmishes in the region. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who came to power 27 years ago, is sought by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur…

Sudan is now expected to become at least moderately more attractive to Western investors, particularly companies eager to enter a region where countries like China, Malaysia and India are already present.

State Department officials say the removal of sanctions would unfreeze government assets and benefit aviation and energy businesses.  Sudan’s economy is mired in debt — foreign creditors are owed $51 billion, or 60 percent of its gross domestic product — and it suffers from high inflation and low productivity. The economy was dealt a severe blow after the oil-rich south tore itself away.

The sanctions placed restrictions on international financial transactions, making it difficult to acquire technology and equipment. Hundreds of factories were shut down because of a lack of parts and trade barriers.Remittances from abroad will be transferred more easily, which will help lift domestic consumption and the economy.

Excerpts from In Long-Isolated Sudan, ‘Lot of Excitement’ as U.S. Sanctions End, NY Times, Oct. 7, 2017

International Criminal Court: Africa not a Soft Target anymore

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The International Criminal Court is to decide whether to suspend its trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta because of a lack of cooperation by Kenyan authorities.  Judges said they would hold a hearing in the coming weeks on a possible reprimand for Kenya after prosecutors told the court on Wednesday that “pure obstructionism” was wrecking any chance of pursuing Kenyatta on charges that he orchestrated post-election violence six years ago.

The case is a test of the authority and credibility of the Western-backed court, which has seen several cases collapse, secured just one conviction in 11 years, and prompted bitter complaints from Africa that it is being singled out as a soft target.  The case against Kenyatta has been undermined by the withdrawal of a string of witnesses who prosecutors say have been intimidated or blackmailed, as well as other failures to secure documentary evidence.

In a January 31 court filing, prosecutors said a “climate of fear” had weakened their case and that judges should rule that Kenya was in breach of its obligation to help investigators.  They told the court they needed access to Kenyatta’s financial records, among other things, to see whether he had indirectly paid large sums of money to the perpetrators of the violence, in which 1,200 people died and thousands were driven from their homes.

Kenyatta, who is head of both state and government, denies the charge of crimes against humanity. His lawyers say the prosecution is now merely trying to blame Kenya for its own failure to build a case…

While Western powers led the push to establish the court and are keen to support it, they are also anxious to maintain relations with Kenya, seen as a key ally in the battle against militant Islamism in neighboring Somalia.The case grew more controversial throughout Africa after Kenyatta, the son of his country’s founder, won last year’s presidential election on a joint ticket with William Ruto, his deputy, who is on trial on similar but separate charges.  Kenya says the court risks destabilizing east Africa if it presses on with the charges.

Excerpt, BY THOMAS ESCRITT, Court to decide whether to suspend Kenyatta trial over “obstructionism”, Reuters, Feb. 6, 2014

Easy Targets: why the International Criminal Court Persecutes African Presidents and not Others

Darfur

Kenya said the International Criminal Court’s case against its two highest elected officials risked destabilizing the entire east African region at a meeting of the court’s member states.  At a debate to discuss the crisis resulting from the court’s cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, the Kenyan attorney-general said the court and its member states were playing “Russian roulette” with the country.  “Our country is the linchpin in the peace and security involving more than 250 million people from Djibouti to Eastern Congo and everybody in between,” Githu Muigai told a special debate called at the request of the African Union. He said Kenya – an ally of the West in the fight against militant Islam in neighboring Somalia – was a “pillar of security” in Eastern Africa, to loud applause from many African delegates at the conference.

Kenyatta and Ruto face separate charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in stoking ethnic violence in the aftermath of an election in 2007 when 1,200 people were killed. Kenya is pressing the ICC’s members for an immediate change in the rules to say that heads of state do not have to attend trials, part of a broader campaign to halt the cases against its political leaders.  Officials also want a longer-term amendment to the founding treaty that would ban the prosecution of heads of state, a campaign which has become a rallying point in Africa, where many leaders say they are the target of an overzealous court in The Hague. Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges of fomenting violence after the election. Ruto’s trial began last month, while Kenyatta’s trial is due to start on February 5 after being delayed for a third time.  “Africa feels marginalized, like toddlers, whom the international community feels has never learned to walk,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Reuters.

Last week, the African Union lost its bid to have the U.N. Security Council defer the cases for a year so the two could deal with the aftermath of an attack on a shopping mall by al Qaeda-linked Somali militants in which at least 67 died.Kenya said the outcome highlighted the need for reform of the Security Council to prevent a few powerful nations imposing their will on the world. It pledged to continue its fight at the ICC’s annual meeting in The Hague.

Human rights groups oppose the proposed changes as well as apparent compromise solutions such as a British proposal that would make it easier for the accused to participate via video link, saying these would weaken the court’s mission to bring to justice those ultimately responsible for war crimes. “The amendments represent an attempt to recreate the ICC in the image of African justice,” said George Kegoro, executive director of the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists.  “Timid, pliable and serving the comfort of leaders rather than justice for victims.”  The court has 34 African members, but any amendment would need the support of two thirds of the court’s 122 members to pass.  But even if the amendments have little chance of passing, Foreign Minister Mohamed said a court composed of members of equal rank should listen to Africa’s concerns. If some members were “more equal than others,” she said, then “we have no business being there.” Since their election, the two men have been defending themselves before the Hague-based court with the help of some of London’s best-known human rights lawyers.  Kenyatta’s legal team has asked judges to throw out the case against him, which they say is based on evidence from bribed witnesses.

By Thomas Escritt, Kenya warns of ICC threat to Eastern Africa’s stability, Reuters, Nov. 21, 2013

Drugs War and Human Rights: the International Criminal Court

A petition signed by more than 18,000 people also asks the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Mexico’s most-wanted drugs lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.  The Mexican government has denied the accusations of crimes against humanity.  It says its security policy cannot constitute an international crime.  Human rights lawyer Netzai Sandoval filed a complaint with the ICC in the Hague, asking it to investigate the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of the security forces and drugs gangs, as well as alleged torture and rape.

“The violence in Mexico is bigger than the violence in Afghanistan, and bigger than the violence in Colombia,” Mr Sandoval told Reuters news agency.  “We want the prosecutor to tell us if war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Mexico, and if the president and other top officials are responsible”.  The office of the prosecutor said it had received the request and would study it and make a decision in due course.

The Mexican government responded to the complaint when the petition was launched in October.  “The federal government categorically rejects that security policy could be considered an international crime,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “In our country society is not victim of an authoritarian government or of systematic abuses by the armed forces,” it added. “Mexico has a rule of law under which crime and impunity are fought without exceptions”. The government also stressed its commitment to human rights and responsibility to protect its citizens from criminal violence.

Mexico is a signatory to the 2002 Statute of Rome that established the ICC as the world’s first permanent international war crimes court.  The ICC investigates and tries cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity in countries that are unwilling or unable to prosecute them on their own.  Most of its cases are initiated after referral by the country involved or the UN Security Council, but the prosecutor’s office can also start investigations on its own initiative on the basis of information received from individuals or organisations.  So far, all its cases have been in Africa, but the prosecutor’s office has begun preliminary examinations in other countries including Afghanistan, Colombia, Honduras and Korea.  Correspondents say any decision to begin an investigation into alleged crimes in Mexico could take months or even years to reach.

More than 40,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since December 2006, when President Calderon began using the military to combat the drug cartels. Many of the dead are thought to be members of the gangs, killed by the security forces or in clashes with rival groups, but there have also been a growing number of civilian casualties.  Last month a report by Human Rights Watch found evidence that the Mexican police and military were involved in 24 killings and 39 disappearances in five states, as well as systematic torture.  It said few of the cases it documented were properly investigated, in part because Mexican soldiers are subject only to military courts.

Mexico activists seek ICC investigation of drugs war, BBC News, Nov. 25, 2011

International Criminal Court Track Record: targeting Africa’s Dictatators

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is about to open a formal investigation into post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire at the request of the country’s new president, Alassane Ouattara… In Libya Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, Africa’s longest-serving leader, is wondering whether he may face the same fate, after the ICC’s chief prosecutor announced that he was seeking three arrest warrants (with names so far undisclosed) for those deemed most responsible for the killing of hundreds of unarmed people since pro-democracy protests began in February….  In The Hague a verdict is expected within months at the trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, before a special court dealing with Sierra Leone. In Sudan President Omar al-Bashir is still wary of falling into the ICC’s net, three years after being charged with genocide in his country’s western province of Darfur.

The court’s statutes let it prosecute people for suspected genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in any member state when that state is “unwilling or unable” to do so…[1]This has usually been done at the request of the state itself, as in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Congo. [2]But it can also investigate atrocities in non-member states at the request of the UN Security Council, if deemed to threaten regional or international peace and security. This is what happened with Darfur, where the Security Council first drew the court’s attention to the atrocities. Now the council has also referred Libya to the court.

This has been a tricky route. Three of the Security Council’s five permanent members—America, Russia and China—did not sign up to the ICC. A threatened veto by just one of them is enough to block a mooted referral. But with Darfur, international alarm over the spreading rape and bloodshed persuaded America and China to abstain rather than oppose Sudan’s referral in 2005. Since then the UN Security Council has sent only one other such case to the court. But the court’s boosters have taken heart from the unanimous vote against Libya in February, arguing that it may mark a milestone in the nine-year-old outfit’s struggle for worldwide acceptance.  Most of the Arab world refuses to accept a court that much of the poor world still sees as a Western-dominated tribunal, intent on holding the have-nots to account while giving impunity to the rich and powerful. Jordan is the ICC’s only Arab member.

These days the ICC’s biggest opponents are in Africa, which provides the court with its biggest group of members (31 out of 114) and is the scene of all the cases currently being investigated or prosecuted: in the CAR, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Sudan and Uganda. Accusing the court of unfairly targeting African countries, the 53-member African Union (AU) is again calling for “African solutions to African problems”. It particularly dislikes the court’s increasing willingness to go after sitting presidents. At its summit next month it plans to extend the authority of its African Court of Justice and Human Rights to cover criminal as well as civil cases. …It may not work. The reason so many African cases are before the court is not because of bias; all the ICC’s cases have been referred to it either by the UN Security Council or by the countries themselves. It is because the standards of justice in Africa are often poor… The ICC was set up as a court of last resort. It may not take on cases if the country concerned has a competent, independent justice system ready to prosecute alleged perpetrators and give them a fair trial. Its statutes say nothing about having to defer to regional courts. Many autocratic African leaders appear ready to protect their erring colleagues from the law in case they may one day need the favour returned…

The ICC’s big weakness, apart from its astronomical cost and drawn-out procedures, is its dependence on others to help arrest suspects. But even this may be changing. South Africa and Botswana have said Mr Bashir is not welcome. Congo has handed over three of its suspects to the court and France a fourth, while Belgium has handed over Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Congolese vice-president, for alleged atrocities in the CAR. America is actively supporting the hunt for four rebel leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which continues to wreak havoc in the region. Some suspects, including three Darfuri rebel leaders and six Kenyans, have appeared voluntarily before the court. Five others are in custody, including four on trial. So the court, though still widely regarded in Africa with suspicion and sometimes even derision, may yet prove to have teeth.

Excerpts, International justice in Africa: The International Criminal Court bares its teeth, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 57