The challenges faced by the international criminal court are about more than "peace vs justice"by Phil Clark / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
In the May issue of Prospect, Richard Dowden argued that the international criminal court’s (ICC) approach to justice in northern Uganda was hindering the chances of a sustainable peace deal between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The dilemma is a genuine one, but it is worth adding that coverage of the Uganda situation has often been framed in simple “peace vs justice” terms. This “boxing match” terminology is more hindrance than help. Rather than polarise the debate further, it is more useful to consider how different approaches at different levels, at different times and by different institutions can address the challenges of mass crimes in complementary ways.
In Uganda, the ICC is now directly confronting a question many believed was inevitable: will it continue prosecuting serious crimes if it becomes an obstacle to peace? Having issued indictments against the LRA commanders in October 2005, the court still has none of them in custody. Although he initially referred the LRA cases to the ICC, Uganda’s President Museveni then proposed amnesties for the commanders instead, to encourage the LRA to talk peace. The ICC warrants can’t simply be withdrawn, however, and options are now being explored for a compromise whereby the Ugandan courts rather than the ICC would take up the baton and proceed with what may be watered-down charges.
The ICC has further headaches in the two other situations it is investigating. In Sudan, peace and justice tensions also loom and the court confronts the challenge of how, without independent muscle, it is going to apprehend Darfur war crimes suspects (one of whom is in the government) when the Sudanese administration rejects the court entirely. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the ICC’s first suspect has been transferred to The Hague, but the court has been criticised for pursuing a fairly lowly warlord while worse offenders now enjoy government positions.
Several factors help explain why debates surrounding the ICC are so heated. First, the ICC can only investigate crimes committed after July 2002, which means it is inevitably drawn into active conflict situations. Second, the fierce battle over the creation of the court, only a few years old, means that those who were opposed to it from the outset are keen to see it fail while its supporters are anxious for it to “get results.” Expectations have often been unreasonably high, and the court itself has…