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New York Review of Books: Africa Attacks the International Criminal Court

Author: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch
February 6, 2014

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"The court's future now rests to a large extent on the battle being waged between African leaders with little interest in justice and those Africans, including many activists and victims, who see an end to impunity for mass atrocities as essential for Africa's future. One can only hope that the welfare of African people takes precedence over the perceived interests of African leaders."

What are we to make of the fact that in its eleven-year history, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has prosecuted only Africans? Should the court be condemned for discrimination—for taking advantage of Africa's weak global position—as some African leaders contend? Or should it be applauded for giving long-overdue attention to atrocities in Africa—a sign that finally someone is concerned about the countless ignored African victims, as many African activists contend? This debate is at the heart of one of the most serious challenges the ICC has ever faced. If the current attack on it succeeds, the court's future may be in doubt.

The ICC was founded in 2002, under a treaty negotiated at a global conference in Rome, as an independent judicial body that would challenge impunity for the gravest international crimes—genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Unlike the International Court of Justice, which is also based in The Hague but settles legal disputes between states, the International Criminal Court addresses mass atrocities committed by individuals. To avoid prosecution, ruthless national leaders too often threaten, corrupt, or compromise judges and prosecutors at home, but those in The Hague should be beyond the reach of such obstructionism. TheICC is meant as a court of last resort for victims and survivors who cannot find justice in their own country and as a deterrent to leaders who have little to fear from domestic prosecution. The court has now been accepted by 122 states. The United States has not joined it out of fear that Americans might be prosecuted.

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