There are worrying signs that the international criminal court's approach to justice may be jeopardising peace in Africaby Richard Dowden / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
The international criminal court (ICC) was set up in 2002 to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some feared that its western-inspired, universalist idea of justice might come into conflict with local forms of law, jeopardising the process of reconciliation. Now that the court has started to flex its muscles—issuing its first warrants, in October 2005, against five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and more recently making an arrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and identifying suspects in Sudan—there are signs that these fears may turn out to have been justified.
In recent times, almost all of Africa’s nastiest wars have ended in local deals. Victors have showed a reluctance to punish. Losers have not been excluded, but given places in government, binding them into the system to prevent future rebellion. Only in a few cases has a rebel or deposed head of state been punished.
Take Mozambique. In the late 1970s, Renamo, a bunch of murderers set up by the Rhodesians, was let loose on Mozambique to punish the government for supporting Rhodesia’s guerrillas. Renamo’s gangs killed, raped, maimed and looted, leaving fear and horror in their wake. Peace only became possible when the South Africans decided to stop supporting Renamo. After months of negotiation with the Mozambique government, these war criminals were given mansions, salaries and cars, and became the official opposition. In elections today, they win some 30 per cent of the vote and you can have lunch with them any day in Maputo.
In Sierra Leone, the civil war ended when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was brought into government after an agreement was signed in Togo in 1999. The atrocities of the RUF and its brainwashed child soldiers were appalling—children were forced to kill and eat their relatives. Though the agreement did not stick and Foday Sankoh, the psychopathic RUF leader, was arrested and died in custody, the main war ended as a result of that peace deal.
In Angola, once the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in 2002, the government declared an amnesty and brought his followers into parliament. And Sudan has just ended a 50-year-old conflict in a deal that leaves the perpetrators of war crimes on both sides unpunished.
Going back further, after the Biafran war in Nigeria in the late 1960s,…