BIRYA: Planned ICC trials about deterrence - Daily Nation

Planned ICC trials about deterrence

Sunday July 11 2010

By ZAWADI BIRYA

IT IS TIME KENYANS CONSIDERED the possibility that the planned post-election violence trials by the International Criminal Court, which are set to begin in 2012, may not solely be a quest for justice, but rather part of a wider strategy to promote peace and democracy in Africa through deterrence.

During his most recent visit to Kenya, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo reiterated that the ICC would only tackle a few chief suspects in the post-election violence, leaving lesser offenders at the mercy of a local tribunal.

Conspicuously present in all of Ocampo’s statements has been the assertion that the ICC wants to use Kenya as a lesson for other countries.

This is a rather vague statement to mean that what happens in Kenya will be an example to would-be perpetrators in other African countries, where elections are synonymous with negative ethnicity and violence.

Like other international trials that have taken place in the past 100 years, Kenyans should not be surprised that the ICC has chosen to try only a few symbolic figures. They shouldn’t even be surprised if the International Criminal Court chooses to exonerate most of them.

This is because such trials are seldom about the quest for justice than about ensuring that history does not repeat itself.

A quick examination of the Kenya situation brings to mind the Nuremberg trials that took place in Germany between 1945 and 1949.

These trials, which were set up to try Nazi war criminals, were presided over by an international judicial set-up known as the International Military tribunal.

Established by the Allied powers — the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union, the tribunal tried 21 chief war criminals during its first year of existence.

DURING THIS TIME, THE CHIEF prosecutor, Mr Justice Robert Jackson of the US, managed to produce 33 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits that proved the 21 suspects were guilty of war crimes.

But despite such overwhelming evidence, three of the suspects were found not guilty, 11 were sentenced to death by hanging, while the rest were sentenced to between 10 years and life in prison, with the option of appeal.

Over the years, many have questioned the legitimacy of this trial and argued that it did not achieve justice because the sentences handed down did not match the heinous crimes committed by war criminals during the Holocaust.

What is not in question is that the Nuremberg trials of the 1940s helped strengthen democracy in Germany by eliminating violence and war as an option in solving political and social problems.

Indeed, these trials made Germany an example to the whole of Europe and served as a deterrent to war-hungry politicians in that region.

Likewise, the Kenyan post-election violence appears to have served as an opportunity for the international community to scare Africans and African governments into democracy by showing blood-thirsty politicians on the continent an example of what awaits them.

Whether the strategy will work or not, is not yet clear, but one thing is for sure: the international attention the Kenyan case has received will ensure that African politicians think long and hard before inciting their people to commit crimes against humanity in the future.

This will effectively take Africa one step away from authoritarianism, and a step closer to true democracy.

MsBirya is a student in communications ([email protected]).