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ICC our only shield from crimes against humanity

Thursday June 17 2010

By WANGARI MAATHAI

In thee last two weeks, I was among the delegates attending a conference of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in Uganda.

Among the delegates were representatives of 111 states, from observer states, international bodies and non-governmental organisations. They had gathered to discuss amendments to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, as well as the Court’s impact to date.

The States Parties that have voluntarily ratified the Statute, including 30 African countries, reaffirmed their commitment to global justice, and expanded the mandate of the Court by adopting new amendments to the Statute. These resolutions include a provision that defines the crime of aggression and the conditions under which the Court can exercise jurisdiction over it.

Another resolution brought under the jurisdiction of the Court is the war crime of employing poisonous weapons and expanding bullets, asphyxiating or poisonous gases, and all analogous liquids, materials and devices.

States acknowledged and reaffirmed their obligation to prosecute crimes of an international nature at the national level. They also reconfirmed their will to co-operate with the ICC, in enforcing Court orders, and facilitating the arrest of suspects. This is a real breakthrough for victims of violence perpetrated by the mighty and politically correct.

I was particularly excited to learn of the progress made by the Court. In Africa, three out of five investigations were opened at the request of States. The Court is working on cases from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The prosecutor is also investigating crimes committed in Darfur, Sudan, after a request by the United Nations Security Council.

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More recently, he opened an investigation in Kenya on crimes committed during the post-election violence. Kenyans welcomed the ICC intervention because the national judicial system seemed unable or unwilling to arrest and prosecute those suspected to have incited or financed the violence.

For ordinary Kenyans, this was the fourth time they were being subjected to inter-ethnic violence used to manipulate general elections. During the previous occasions, nobody was ever held responsible. This time, Kenyans hoped the ICC would fulfil their quest for justice.

The ICC will also guarantee that those most responsible for the crimes will be punished after a fair and public due process. Moreover, to see justice being done, or to actively participate in the process, will help Kenyan victims access some form of reparation. To date, Kenya’s political elite have not brought to justice any suspects of crimes committed during the post-election violence.

In time, those suspects will come to believe they can get away with murder if politicians protect them, and that violence is profitable because they can achieve their goals. ICC opponents in Africa are worried about the many potential culprits in the continent. Yet, the Court works for victims of international crime, no matter where the crimes are committed.

If the ICC is working in Africa at the moment, it is because international crimes are occurring in our region. We have witnessed with shame the horrible events that occurred in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and even here in Kenya. Thousands of Africans have been killed and displaced, women raped and forced to live as sex slaves, property destroyed and communities displaced.

As a Kenyan, and as an African woman, I can affirm that whether it is here in Kenya or in Darfur, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Central African Republic or in Uganda, the need for justice is universal. The ICC is bringing us hope that we can finally see the fulfilment of the right of the victims to learn the truth, to see the perpetrators of these crimes tried, and to receive reparation. The only reason we might fear ICC is if we are guilty.

The International Criminal Court is here to stay even if its mandate is limited, and even if it only deals with a few cases. Its impact will have positive consequences, sending the message that impunity will no longer be tolerated. National systems of justice will be strengthened as they adopt domestic laws in accordance with the Rome Statute. Educating nationals about this system will help make justice an actual tool for reconciliation and sustainable peace.

For all these reasons, the world should welcome the decisions made in Uganda. We should actively support the International Criminal Court for it brings us hope. We are part of the world. Therefore, the ICC is our Court too.

Prof Maathai is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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