By Mokun Njouny Nelson in Douala, Cameroon
Rwanda war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda 40, surprised everyone but delighted ICC prosecutors when he voluntarily handed himself in at the United States embassy in Rwanda last month. He was quickly flown to the Hague and in court, he pleaded not guilty to seven war crimes and three crimes against humanity. There are indications he surrendered to save his life because his ex-comrades wanted to kill him.
The ICC has brought charges against Ntaganda relating to his involvement between 2002-2003 in the fighting in the Ituri region of the Congo DR when he was one of the leaders of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group led by Thomas Lubanga. Last year, Lubanga became the first person the ICC has ever convicted.
Ntaganda has fought with many rebel groups operating in the war ravaged eastern region of Congo DR. he last fought with the M23 rebel group which is still fighting Congo DR government troops.
Bosco Ntaganda is the latest in a long line of Africans facing international justice abroad for crimes committed in Africa. Last year, Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment by a United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) for his role in the brutal Sierra Leone civil war in the 90’s. Taylor was tried on 11 counts of “aiding and abetting “ war crimes and crimes against humanity” . Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Ghagbo is now facing trial at the ICC for similar crimes. The ICC opened investigations into the 2010 post presidential elections in Ivory Coast and indicted Laurent Ghagbo on four crimes against humanity including rape, murder and other forms of sexual violence.
In July 2008, Luis Morena Ocampo, lead ICC prosecutor accused present Sudanese president Omar al Bashir of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with fighting in the disputed Darfur region of Sudan. Bashir became the first sitting president for whom the court has issued two arrest warrants. Russia, China, The African Union, League of Arab States and non-aligned movement all oppose the indictment. With African countries refusing to execute the warrant, the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has claimed Bashir’s plane could be intercepted in international airspace. The Sudanese government announced his plane will always be accompanied by fighter jets. Bashir now hardly travels abroad again. Kenyan president elect is also facing an ICC trial beginning in July (see separate story)
ICC unjustly targeting Africa?
During his trial, Former Liberia president Charles Taylor claimed he was protected by law and if he must be tried, Former US president George Bush must also stand trial for crimes committed during his “war on terror”. There have been calls for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to also stand trial with George Bush for invading Iraq unilaterally but this is unlikely to happen. This is one of the main reasons the ICC has been accused of disproportionately targeting weak African states and leaders and not those from powerful western states, a charge the ICC denies.
Aware of this criticism, the ICC prosecutor office recently organized a debate titled, “Is the International Criminal Court (ICC) targeting Africa inappropriately?
Opinion was sharply divided among the panelist. Fatou Bensouda, ICC prosecutor argues that the mandate of the ICC is limited because it can only tackle crimes committed after July 2002 and its jurisdiction is limited to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Margaret DGFuzman, Associate Professor at Temple University Beasley school of law in Philadelphia, USA believes “ while some African governments have voiced concerns about the ICC’s fairness, the available evidence suggests that African civil society continues substantially to support the work of the ICC”.
Charles Taku, Lead counsel at the International Tribunal for Rwanda concedes that it is self-defeating the ICC concentrates its efforts in Africa and this means it is “ little known outside Africa and commands little respect or attention in other conflict regions of the world”.
Tumasang Martin, a London based lawyer holds that “…the ICC targeting Africa is a welcome positive affirmative action…those whose hands are clean should fear no prosecution decision…with time other perpetuators in other continents will be targeted”