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FT hits the ICC in all the wrong places

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10 July 2008 12:14

Gideon Rachman takes FT journalism down a notch with this article on the International Criminal Court. The piece is misleading and comes up with some dubious suggestions, right at the time the Court is confounding sceptics and riding high with its recent success.

Rachman writes the piece, apparently, to mark the Court's tenth birthday (in fact its Statute only came into effect on 1 July 2002). That makes the following statement from Rachman misleading to those unfamiliar with the how the Court was set up:

With the ICC’s reputation on the line, it does not help that the court is also vulnerable to charges of incompetence. Ten years after the Rome statute that created the court, it has yet to complete a prosecution.

States finished negotiating the International Criminal Court's statute ten years ago in July 1998, but it wasn't until its ratification by 60 countries in 2002 that it was able to even start the process that has now led to its first trials. Hold that thought to 2012, Gideon.

Instead of the ICC 'facing its own indictment', as Rachman asserts, the Court has had a sting of recent successes with two arrests this year, including the significant arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba. But Rachman lays in. He claims that because 'offers of amnesty to dictators are now much less likely to be credible' (as a result of the success of international courts getting them arrested) this obstructs peace efforts because murderous dictators can't be shuttled off to a quiet retirement.

Making would-be murderous dictators think twice before committing mass abuses was one of the intentions behind the Court's establishment. Having been successful in putting these people on notice, it would hardly seem a good time to roll back to the halcyon days of amnesties for despots. In the three conflicts that Rachman claims international justice 'may in fact be working against peace' (Zimbabwe, Darfur and Uganda), it's hard to see the glory (or success) in the pre-justice days. And although I'm sceptical about the LRA's willingness to accept peace under its deranged leader Joseph Kony, at least the Court's indictments against its leadership have helped drive the first serious peace negotiations in years with the Ugandan Government.   

Finally, there is the nebulous statement, 'Some Africans complain that the ICC is using their continent as a laboratory'. Rachman might have done a little more research. Of the four situations currently before the Court, three (Uganda, DRC and CAR) were launched at the request of the respective African governments. The other, Darfur, was referred to the Court by the UN Security Council. The Court may be presently focusing on crimes committed in Africa, but only because it was explicitly asked.

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