Global Concerns - 14 - International Justice - But Not For All

1. In the mid-1990s the catastrophic conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were a major impetus for creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC was set up by the Rome Statute of 1998 and opened its doors for the first time in July 2002. It now has over 120 member countries and is the world’s only permanent tribunal set up to consider genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

2. However, states can volunteer (or not) to join the ICC and some big states have NOT joined including three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. At November 2016 the NON-members include : USA, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Yemen, Ukraine, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Egypt, Rwanda, Libya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Greenland, Cuba, and many others. Apart from anything else, it is disgraceful that three big states are allowed to dominate the UN Security Council whilst keeping themselves immune from international law and humanitarian standards (more on this below).

3. So, twenty years after its conception, the ICC is still only dealing with a tiny fraction of the world’s law-breakers that it should be holding to account. By mid-2016 the ICC itself had issued just four verdicts. The ICC should by now be a major support for progressive global justice and a deterrent to the many wrongdoers among the world's most powerful, but it is still struggling. Its no surprise that many of the world's elites, politicians and governments hate the ICC and will do nothing to help its development.

4. Based in the Hague (Netherlands), the ICC can itself investigate and charge suspects but it can also set up joint tribunals with individual countries. It has done this and set up International Criminal Tribunals - in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), both of which are currently in operation. Also, the ICC can provide expertise to support national courts when they prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some countries have laws of ‘Universal Jurisdiction’ which allow (or even oblige) the country to prosecute heinous crimes even if they were committed abroad, by foreigners and against foreigners. While some countries have these laws, few actually use them.

5. The ICC is meant to be a ‘court of last resort’, i.e. it should only be needed if a national court fails to act or for some reason cannot act against a suspect. The ability of individual countries to pursue these major crimes is often limited by weaknesses in their own justice system and laws. Any member nation can ask the ICC to investigate and prosecute a suspect and it can send suspects to the ICC to be dealt with by the Court. Several African countries have done this.

Double Standards Among Governments

6. In reality, in many countries there is : (a) weak support from the political establishment for international criminal justice standards, (b) little regard for international human rights standards, and (c) little or no willingness to actively pursue such criminals. These are appalling double standards when they exist in small or less developed countries but even worse when they exist in each of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (U.K., China, France, Russia and the U.S.A.). Each of these powerful countries has shown on many occasions that it does not want its own crimes investigated or exposed, or its previous or current politicians (or military or other public figures) called to account. These include (for example) crimes in war and conflict as well as crimes in politics, economics and business.

Bush & Blair & Iraq - No Justice There (Yet)

7. In 2016 the ICC is considering whether to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by U.K forces in Iraq after war and invasion was launched by the USA-led coalition in March 2003. The ICC says it has not ruled out any
suspects. Many people would like the ICC to focus on those leaders who decided that war should take place, but the ICC says it does not have jurisdiction over that decision (many of us think it should have). The U.S.A. President George Bush and the U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were the key figures in that decision – the U.N Secretary General at the time warned them it would be an illegal war. Bush and Blair (and many others in their administrations) lied to the U.N., to their publics, to other nations and to the world’s press and media. Many claims were made about carrying out 'nation-building' to improve Iraq's future. However, Bush and Blair's motives were bound up with sustaining their own geopolitical power and ensuring their control over Iraq’s oil reserves.

8. After several years of carnage, the U.S.A. supposedly withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and then became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition. So far, at least several hundred thousand civilians have been killed and millions have been injured. Thousands of military personnel have also been killed. Over this whole period many Iraqis believe their country has been left in the worst condition it has been in since the Mongol invasion of 1258. Every Iraqi citizen has lived a life turned upside down - at best. This conflict has so far lasted over twice as long as the second world war and has evolved through several stages of multi-dimensional conflict. It continues to this day.

More War Crimes in the Middle East

9. There have also been linkages between the conflict in Iraq and the other multi-dimensional conflict next door in Syria. This is the largest humanitarian disaster since the second world war and it has so far created several million Refugees. Unfortunately, there are no signs that peace will break out in Syria soon. And there are few signs that the biggest criminals – those nations who are feeding and conducting this war – will face justice soon.

10. Numerous international bodies have observed that the Syrian and Russian governments (and various other parties to the conflict) have committed war crimes, but will the ICC ever prosecute the suspects ? Even if it one day does, there is no sign that it will prosecute the corporations who are arms manufacturers and arms dealers, or the states who organise shady arms deals and military aid deals which have supplied arms to all the parties in the Syrian conflict. The U.S.A., the U.K., and Russia are the key countries in this – all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. In the Autumn of 2016 Russian/Syrian warplanes bombed a United Nations Humanitarian Convoy during the UN-brokered ceasefire', killing numerous aid workers and civilians. It did this while the United Nations was holding its annual General Assembly of world leaders in New York. Yet, there was a staggering lack of action from the UN, to the extent that this was a massive indictment of the supposed 'world order' and 'world powers'. There are many more cases that call for international legal action. For example, the USA has given massive military aid and weapons to Israel which it has used to attack, oppress and repress the Palestinian people over seven decades. Saudi Arabia has, over several years, been using weapons and military equipment supplied by the USA and Britain to kill thousands of people in Yemen, in a war that is barely ever mentioned in the western media. The ICC seems a very long way from carrying out investigations into these conflicts or charging anyone (e.g. governments, politicians, corporations, military officers, etc) with any crime.

11. Nevertheless, a globally effective ICC (properly funded, resourced and developed) is greatly needed across the world. National justice
systems and courts are often ineffective at bringing powerful figures in their own countries to justice or in sending them to the ICC to be dealt with. In many countries there are politicians and political parties who denigrate international laws, human rights standards and the ICC, and their governments often vote to limit the ICC’s budget and resources. Too many of them are actively promoting a weak political climate on human rights and international justice.

12. However, the ICC does potentially have considerable powers. Its prosecutor can open investigations on the territory of any of its (over 120) member countries and investigate the nationals of these countries. Perhaps if the ICC ever gets the support, the budget and the resources it needs it will eventually investigate and prosecute some of the world’s most powerful leaders and governments. Now, in 2016, that seems a very big ‘If’.

Africa Needs Justice & the ICC

13. In Rwanda in 100 days during 1994 there was a genocidal mass slaughter of up to a million Tutsi people carried out by the Hutu-led government and its supporters. Possibly as many as 20% of Rwanda’s population were killed. In addition, an estimated two million Rwandans were displaced and became Refugees. Throughout this genocide the United Nations stood by and did nothing to stop this mass slaughter at any stage.

14. Having witnessed inaction by the powerful western countries in the face of the genocide in Rwanda many African States were from the mid-1990s among the ICC’s earliest proponents. After the ICC had been set up and started its work, it decided to prosecute sitting Presidents Omar-al-Bashir of Sudan and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his Deputy William Ruto
for other crimes committed in their own countries. In response, those leaders and their various allies whipped up opposition to the ICC. They exploited the fact that until 2016 all the ICC investigations were in Africa. They ignored the fact that the majority of the suspects were sent to the ICC by African governments.

15. A move, in late 2016, among some African countries within the African Union is designed to stop the ICC from prosecuting sitting Heads of State. Also, the leaders in South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia threatened (or started formally) to withdraw their countries from the ICC. The criminal and human rights records of these three leaders Jacob Zuma, Pierre Nkurunziza and Yahya Jammeh are all under scrutiny worldwide. Since then South Africa has withdrawn its threat to leave. Jammeh has lost power. Burundi actually left in October 2017 in the midst of widespread instability and killings in the country. Giving impunity to powerful self-serving leaders or other figures (or allowing them to try and take impunity for themselves by leaving the ICC) is exactly what the world does not need. This is neatly illustrated in this short video by Human Rights Watch :

We Need Justice Everywhere - No Exceptions

16. As the work of the ICC spreads to other parts of the world it will face pressures and attacks from political interests opposed to accountability. As an example, the U.S.A’s refusal to prosecute torture carried out by its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows the U.S.A’s entrenched double standards. This contrasts with the globally consistent application of justice that the ICC exists to implement. It is potentially the global court which will hold even the most powerful to account.

17. Those people who lead or mislead their citizens into intolerance, racism, bigotry, conflict or wars should be held to account without delay, whichever part of the world they are from. Similarly, they should not be allowed to cede their citizens’ human rights, democratic rights, land rights, environment, mineral rights or natural resources to private corporations or to sectarian or sectional groups.

18. International justice should be available to all, not just to the rich and powerful, and should be applied consistently across all the nations of the world. International law should apply to all political leaders as well as to non-politicians (e.g. corporations) of all nations, and of all political persuasions.

19. We would not dream of getting on a plane, train or bus with unqualified, untrained and unchecked pilots or drivers - so why should we tolerate unqualified, untrained and unchecked politicians and leaders ? They should all be much more closely accountable to the world’s citizens, including through international laws and standards of justice and human rights – with no exceptions.