Luis Moreno Ocampo discusses African nations leaving the International Criminal Court (ICC)
I am not worried about the future of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the Burundi and South Africa withdrawal. What I am worried about is the genocide in Burundi and the imminent risk of a new African war in the Great Lakes Region. My biggest concern is that the global community is going backwards.
When I took office at the ICC in 2003, there were serious doubts about the ICC’s viability. In 2016, its existence is not at risk but its relevance is and will continue to be based on the behavior of the other actors. The ICC functions as a traffic light. Thirteen years ago, when the ICC started its operations, no one knew whether the green light would turn on and off or whether the red light would work. Now the traffic light is working and the question is rather whether the cars will respect it.
Burundi is now running a red light, South Africa is encouraging it and the rest of the world is not stopping it. The decision of the Burundian President Nkurunziza to leave the ICC merely reveals his intent to commit crimes against humanity and possible genocide against his own citizens with impunity. As the ICC is being abandoned, the President of the Burundian Senate is proposing to “pulverize and exterminate” rebels and to spray “cockroaches”. The same word was used to dehumanize the Tutsi during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. What mechanism will now exist to protect future victims? The alternative to legal protection, unfortunately, is militias in arms or war between states.
Until now, the Burundi Government to is accusing Rwanda of using proxy forces to protect the Tutsi population and if the crimes continue the conflict could escalate. It has ‘happened before. Rwanda’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of the 20th Century triggered two wars in Africa. These wars involved dozens of African countries and killed millions of people.
A year ago, the British Ambassador, as the President of the UN Security Council, warned of a “possible genocide” in Burundi as the international body agreed on a resolution paving the way for a peacekeeping deployment. But, in January 2016, the Head of the UN Peacekeepers declared the UN is ill-prepared for controlling genocide in Burundi.
Meanwhile, the world continues to look away as blood flows in Burundi. Since April 2016, 210,000 new refugees have escaped from Burundi into neighboring countries. In the same month, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination of the crimes committed in Burundi. The ICC is the only institution with a mandate to prevent and punish these terrible crimes. That is why Burundi is leaving the ICC.
Instead of protecting the victims, the African Union is protecting the perpetrators. Nelson Mandela promoted the establishment of the ICC to avoid new atrocity crimes in on the African continent. In Rome, in 1998, the South African Minister of Justice stressed that the establishment of the ICC “would ultimately contribute to the attainment of international peace.” Now, under the Zuma leadership, South Africa has decided to cover up crimes, abandon the African victims, and is inviting the rest of the leaders on the continent to ignore the red lights.
Yet another genocide in Burundi and another war in the Great Lakes region are underway, while the commentators focus on the impact of the International Criminal Court.