African courts have potential to replace ICC: Dr. P. Clark
Press TV in its Africa Today program has conducted an interview with Dr. Phil Clark, lecturer in international politics, SOAS, Rwanda about Africa’s determination to control her own destiny and the issue of continued acceptance of ICC rule in favor of regional courts is under the spotlight.
The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.
Do you feel that the ICC (International Criminal Court) essentially is a token representation of the balance of power internationally and really has got nothing to do a fair play of justice across the board?
Yes I think there is some very legitimate concerns about the power differentials that the ICC represents.
I think in Africa in particular there are some very legitimate concerns that some of the major powers on the UN Security Council for example that are wielding the ICC as a legal tool particularly the US, Russia and China are themselves not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC and so I think that that’s a concern for many African leaders and also many people at the popular level in Africa as well.
Do you feel that really the ICC if it can be reformed should stop calling itself an international criminal court with this huge absence of such big-power players who could potentially come under its wing should they decide to go crazy like they did during the Iraq war?
I think this is the challenge for the ICC over the next five or ten years to make itself a truly global institution.
I think it’s been a serious strategic error by the court in its first ten years of operation to focus solely on Africa and African leaders. But the problem I guess that’s facing the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the moment is that she’s inherited this enormous Africa case load from her predecessor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and it’s going to take Bensouda I would say at least the next five to seven to eight years to clear this backlog of Africa cases.
But the court is completely log-jammed with the African cases at the moment and so until it has actually dealt with that backlog it is not going to be able to focus its attention on the rest of the world.
So there are serious... on the court at the moment, but then nevertheless that is the challenge for the court to get out of Africa and to be as a truly global institution and particularly to go after I think leaders of some of the major powers.
Until the court does that I think it is going to be seen largely as an illegitimate institution.
What are your thoughts about the potential for this actually being a blessing in disguise with regard to African countries finally focusing in a very fine-tuned way on how they deal with the injustices across the continent.?
I’m not sure if we can thank the ICC for this renewed African interest in dealing with serious crimes because in many ways African countries were already dealing with the atrocities of the past long before the ICC emerged on the scene.
You can think of countries like Rwanda that has prosecuted hundreds and thousands of genocide cases through a community court.
Perhaps most importantly in the case of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo the local judiciary in fact was already dealing with the cases of the very same warlords that the ICC then whisked off to The Hague. And there has been enormous frustration about the fact that the ICC has basically stolen these cases from right underneath their own nose.
So I think we have to recognize that there was already enormous momentum around prosecuting genocide war crimes and crimes against humanity in many African countries before the ICC emerged on the scene and I think that that’s something the court and its supporters ignore all too readily.
Do you think there is potential for this momentum to keep building up because some people argue like Desmond Tutu does that the people who are actually seeking to remove themselves from the ICC should actually be in front of it?
I don’t thinks it’s as straight forward to think that it’s the ICC or no justice whatsoever.
I think we need to shift the whole debate to focus on what African States themselves can do in terms of prosecuting these very serious crimes.
It is true that some African states are more willing to do this than others and I think that there needs to be more pressure on some African states to deal with their own problems, but I think by the same token we need to recognize that there is an enormous amount of domestic momentum in many, many African countries to hold their own leaders and other perpetrators of serious crimes accountable.
And so I think we should shift the whole debate not so much to talk about international justice, but in fact to talk about African justice and the things that are already very productively being done in many African court rooms as we speak.
Can they escape justice with the existence of an African court of justice because this debate is going to force the AU to discuss a potential existing solution.
You know, it’s OK to be against the ICC, but what about justice for those people who are clamoring for justice and are not getting any?
Yes I would agree with that. I think that it’s fine for the AU to express these very important concerns about the ICC, but the pressure is now on the AU itself to set up a viable regional body and unfortunately the Africa Court of Justice on human rights at the moment is basically a skeleton of an institution - it exists on paper, but it has very little momentum and activity around it.
So the press is on the AU to firstly make that a functional body. The second that I think that needs to be done is that there needs to be much more international attention paid to the possibility of prosecuting cases through domestic courts in Africa.
I’ve already mentioned Rwanda, where I am currently, and north eastern Congo as places where here have already been important justice processes happening.
But there are also important processes happening in places like Senegal, which is prosecuting the former president of Chad; we’ve seen use of the South African courts to deal with human rights cases from Zimbabwe; and we’ve also seen an important development in South Kivu province in Congo, which has been the use of mobile courts to deal with sexual violence cases. Those mobile courts have been a combination of domestic Congolese judges working in concert with external experts.
And so there are these very important domestic justice processes that are happening in Africa and I think that much of the international debate would benefit from focusing on that potential and whether the billions of dollars that are being spent on international criminal justice could in fact be better spent in terms of judicial reform within African states themselves.