The prosecutor-elect of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has dispelled what she termed as “perceptions” that the Hague-based court is only there to punish Africans. “A lot of it is only perception,” said Fatou Bensouda Wednesday at a week-long Open Society conference being held in Cape Town, South Africa. “The perception is a dangerous thing; it’s given to impress that the only place ICC is working is in Africa.” She added: “There are some elements that want this perception to persist.” Most African leaders complain that since its inception in 2002 the ICC has only targeted African leaders.
In a 2009 summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Union (AU) passed a resolution calling on the United Nations Security Council to defer an ICC indictment against Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al- Bashir.
The mistrust came to a heard the following year when at another summit in Kampala, Uganda, the AU reiterated its refusal to arrest al-Bashir and turned down a request by the ICC to establish an office in Addis Ababa to liaise with the AU to discuss its accusation that the ICC was picking on Africa. South Africa, Botswana and now the new government in Zambia are the only ‘dark sheep’ on the continent, with Pretoria saying it cannot assure the embattled Sudanese leader’s security if he visits South Africa while Gaborone and Lusaka out rightly said they would arrest him if he dares set his foot on their soils. Malawi’s new President Joyce Banda has also described al Bashir as “an economic risk” and asked the AU not to invite him during next July’s summit Malawi is hosting. Al Bashir has since visited Uganda and Malawi after his two indictments without incidents. African leaders, including the late Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika who defied an American warning against hosting the wanted suspected war criminal in 2011, have advocated that Africa sets up its own tribunal to try its own leaders suspected of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Reacting to this proposal in Cape Town Wednesday, Bensouda – herself an African from the Gambia, said she hopes the proposed African tribunal would not be created to shield war criminals.
She said she “sincerely hope an African tribunal” would not be created for “criminals to slip through”. She said the proposed courts must not be “a safe haven for criminals”. Bensouda, elected ICC Deputy Prosecutor in 2004, takes over from Luis Moreno-Ocampo – an Argentinean who was heavily criticised by African leaders as targeting them. But the 50-year-old in-coming prosecutor said there was need for Africans to understand the workings of the ICC. “The ICC is not a court of first instruction,” she said. “It is a court of last resort. I am trying with my team to work with Africans so that they understand the role of ICC.” She said so far 121 member states ratified the Rome Statute that set up the court, 33 of which were from Africa. She dispelled suggestions that the United States uses the court to further its ends and that Washington funds its activities. “The 121 member states contribute to the funding of ICC, America does not fund ICC,” she said.
The conference also took to task the ICC for its lack of progress like successfully prosecuting only one Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – a former militia leader in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – in its entire decade of existence. But Bensouda defended the court, saying the court face a lot of operational challenges. “We don’t have an army…police (to arrest inductees); we rely on state army, police,” she said, adding: “And when you bring cases to the court before judges you have to bring solid evidence.” She, however, said there has been improvement in the period of its investigations with the Libyan cases of the late Libyan strongman Col Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi taking only three months while that of the former Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo only taking one- and-a–half months. “The ICC was set up so that there will no longer be impunity,” she said.
The OSISA Cape Town conference, under the theme: Money, Power and Sex, has brought together African and international luminaries including former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, former South African Vice-President Phumzile-Mlambo-Ngcuka and former British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short, civil rights activists like Iranian Nobel Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi and Egyptian uprising poster girl Mona Eltahawy, economists like Malawi-Swede Prof. Thandika Mkandawire and artists such as Nigerian singer Femi Kuti, South African soul singer Simphiwe Dana, Kenya author Binyavanga Wainaina and Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah.