On Thursday, the Great Lakes Policy Forum hosted a talk, “The ICC in Africa: Impartial Judge or Neo-Colonial Project?” featuring speakers Ruth Wedgwood, Director of the International Law and Organizations Program at Johns Hopkins University, Suliman Baldo, Africa Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Charles Villa-Vicencio, Ph.D., former Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. Discussion focused on why frustrations towards the ICC have emerged, what the appropriate role for the organization is, and whether its involvement as an outsider can truly provide the reconciliation needed at the local level.
According to its founding treaty, the ICC would only get involved in cases when states are unwilling or genuinely unable to carry out their own investigations and prosecutions. Wedgwood noted that the language, particularly the use of “genuinely,” was prone to subjectivity and led to unprecedented actions, such as the warrant issued for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.
The African Union has been a vocal opponent of the ICC’s move to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir,.Villa-Vicencio said he sees this reaction as part of a growing antagonism in Africa towards international institutions. In this particular case, the AU had requested from both the ICC and the United Nations Security Council for more time to act before the warrant was issued. Despite these overtures, the ICC went ahead with the warrant, which, according to Villa-Vicencio, undermined the AU’s efforts in Darfur and role in the region’s peace process. Baldo, who spoke at length about the growing frustrations in the Democratic Republic of Congo towards the ICC’s prosecutions in the Ituri region, said that the AU rejection of al-Bashir’ indictment was not a dismissal of the war crimes committed, but an assertion that the AU should be at the center of the region’s security and peace efforts.
Not all of the ICC’s efforts were criticized. The panel agreed that the ICC indictment of Joseph Kony and top commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army was essential for bringing the rebel group to the negotiating table. Baldo added that the international pressure led Ugandan civil society leaders to create their own set of ideas for seeking reconciliation and accountability–ideas that were incorporated in the Juba Agreement.
Villa-Vicencio suggested that in order for the ICC to achieve both justice and peace, it must increase dialogue with the AU and redirect its focus to building local and regional structures that can do the work of reconciliation themselves. Without local engagement, the ICC risks disconnecting from the very population for whom it seeks justice. He said, “Is there justice when the ICC comes in and local people do not understand, see, or feel the justice?”
As the event’s title suggests, the ICC often evokes impassioned debates, and Thursday’s event was no exception. To read more about the Court, check out Enough’s special page.