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Taking stock of the International Criminal Court 0

KAMPALA – The first Review Conference of the International Criminal Court opens in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, today. The conference is the first opportunity to propose amendments to the treaty that established the ICC, the Rome Statute, and to assess the implementation and impact of the ICC.

Since it was established in 2002, the Court has focused heavily on Africa, though the Office of the Prosecutor is making preliminary examinations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia and Palestine, as well as Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.

The Congolese Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is presently on trial for war crimes. He is accused of conscripting children into his Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo during conflict in 2002 and 2003. Two other cases from the Democratic Republic of Congo are in pre-trial stages, and arrest warrants have been issued for five top members of the Ugandan rebel group Lords Resistance Army.

Perhaps the most high profile charges are those leveled against the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who is accused of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

The charges against Bashir exposed a crack in the solidarity against impunity that the ICC represents, when an African Union summit in Libya issued a statement of non-cooperation with the arrest warrant. Civil society pressure has meant that many of the African signatories to the Rome Statute have since reaffirmed that they would fulfil their obligation to execute the warrant if Bashir were to visit their countries, as a recent Afronline.org article on the South African World Cup highlights.

Dismas Nkunda, the chair of the Darfur Consortium and co-director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, says, “The review conference offers an opportunity for both state parties to the Rome Statute and those who see the ICC differently to sit together and reflect on where we have come from and what could work better going forward.

“But the most crucial element for the conference will be the stock-taking exercise which looks at the court in relation to the victims and the ability to see what worked from their perspective and what did not work.”

Stock-taking

This stock-taking will assess and evaluate the Rome Statute’s impact on complementarity, cooperation, victims and affected communities, and peace and justice.

Central to the ICC’s mandate is the principle of complementarity, which holds that the Court will only intervene if national legal systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

Complementarity is the principle behind ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo opening investigations into the 2008 violence that followed elections in Kenya, where a series of delays have cast doubt the governnment’s seriousness in identifiying and prosecuting those responsible for organising the violence.

In a brief on Colombia for the Review Conference, Amanda Lyons and Michael Reed-Hurtado of the International Center for Transitional Justice, acknowledge that the existence of the ICC has strengthened prosecutors and judges, and prompted the adoption of the Justice and Peace Law of 2005 – representing a step away from the blanket amnesties that had previously been granted during peace processes.

But they write that national courts have so far failed to address widespread and systematic state-backed violence; the new law has not yet produced any convictions. Civil society would like Moreno-Ocampo to open an investigation opened in Colombia.

Victims

Nearly three hundred thousand registered victims of violence are waiting for justice in Colombia. Another theme of the stock-taking will be to assess the Court’s impact on victims of serious crimes against humanity.

“Victims are no longer the silent bystanders who must suffer in silence; mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court are there to provide victims’ with an independent voice, to enable them to be heard in safety and dignity and to ensure that they achieve justice that is meaningful,” says Carla Ferstman, director of REDRESS, a UK based organisation focused on victims’ rights.

Continue reading on IPS

By Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi IPS

Read more on Afronline.org on ICC:

South Africa/Sudan: arrest threat for Sudan’s al-Bashir

Africa: Amnesty International 2010 report on human rights

Guinea: ICC looks into September 2009 massacre

U.S. congress clears Anti-LRA Bill

Kenya: ICC prosecutor meets victims of 2007-08 violence

Vote-fixing may undermine Sudan’s ruling party

Sudan: churches’ leader urges acceptance of poll result

Madagascar coup leaders may face ICC prosecution

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