African Civil Society Demands More from Governments and African Union on ICC
As a two-day meeting between the 30 original African signatory countries to the ICC draws to a close, the peace-versus-justice debate continues to impact civilians on the ground and divide how Africa’s conflicts are addressed by advocates and policymakers.
This couldn’t be any more true than in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where peace advocates argue that if it weren’t for the International Criminal Court‘s arrest warrants on Joseph Kony, Thomas Lubanga and Bosco Ntaganda, greater prospects for peace might exist through a viable peace process and stronger support for traditional reconciliation mechanisms. Justice proponents, however, argue that the international judicial mechanisms, absent any legal or judicial system, are necessary to enforce the laws, punish the perpetrators, and implement a peace process.
In my personal conversations with Darfuris and other Sudanese, they felt strongly that the ICC was the only body they could trust to bring justice to their lives. Lacking a viable and internationally-supported peace process for Darfur and a fledgling North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, many Sudanese have lost confidence in the ability of the Khartoum government to provide its citizens with any fair or legitimate legal recourse. For them, that means living peacefully, free from harm, with greater representation in government, greater access to wealth and resources, compensation for the damages incurred and punishment for the perpetrators — including President Bashir.
Nearly 70 African civil society groups recently organized in Kampala and Cape Town to express their support for the ICC and Darfuri wishes, arguing that the Court plays a necessary role when their governments are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity. Recognizing that their governments originally were supportive of the Court’s creation, they now demand that those same African countries and institutions, including the African Union, show greater support for the ICC. A number of op-eds stating these positions have been published this week by civil society representatives, including from Uganda Coalition for the International Criminal Court, as well as the Central African Republic.
Just one week after these civil society organizations gathered, nineteen African leaders met on June 8 for the COMESA Summit in Zimbabwe to discuss the economic and political future of the regional bloc. Sadly, rather than heeding their people’s demands and cries for justice and legality, the group issued a statement calling for a suspension altogether of the ICC arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir.
So it seems that despite the people’s demands, and the fact that thirty of the original signatories to the Rome Statute were African, African leaders prefer making decisions regarding the ICC and Darfur not based on the people’s wishes, but on theirs. Let’s hope this week’s meeting in Addis Ababa bears a more fruitful result that supports the needs of the Darfuris, Ugandans, and Congolese civilians on the ground.
Semhar Araia is an Africa analyst and consultant living in Washington, D.C.