A rare triumph for human rights over realpolitik

Published in The Independent (November 16th, 2013)

So the International Criminal Court can fight on in its struggle to bring tyrants to justice. The United Nations has seen off an attempt to suspend the trial of Kenya’s President on charges of crimes against humanity, a move that threatened the future of the controversial court.

The Security Council yesterday refused to back an African Union motion to defer the case which, had it passed, might have marked the 11-year-old court’s death sentence.

The proposal won seven votes in support – including China and Russia – with eight abstentions; it needed two more to pass. ‘This should put an end to efforts to undermine the ICC’s cases,’ said Liz Evenson, of Human Rights Watch. ‘There were no grounds to justify deferral.’

Now the unprecedented case, in which Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, is accused of masterminding horrific sectarian violence following elections six years ago, will open in February. The trial of his deputy, William Ruto, has already begun.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto won office in March after a clever campaign in which they presented themselves as victims of a court leading a neo-colonial conspiracy against their country. The pair were advised by a British PR firm.

Since their victory, they have ramped up their campaign against the court. Victims of violence that left at least 1,200 people dead have also been bribed and intimidated, leading several witnesses to withdraw testimonies from the ICC case.

Last month, in a statement riven with self-interest, the African Union complained about “politicisation and misuse” of indictments against African leaders. It insisted serving heads of state should be immune from international law.

Some concerns are justified. The ICC has publicly indicted some 30 individuals from seven countries, yet all are African. Additionally, all eight cases currently before the court come from the continent.

And why, ask critics, are George Bush and Tony Blair not in the dock for the invasion of Iraq? The answer, they say, can be found in the words of the former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who arrogantly declared this was not a court “to bring to book Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom or Presidents of the United States”.

Yet the creation of the ICC as the court of last resort for the globe’s most monstrous atrocities was a valuable step forward in the fight for human rights. Although the United States shamefully refuses to submit to its remit it has been supported by 34 African countries, many of them weary of bloodshed and exploitation.

The smear this is ‘a white man’s witch-hunt’ simply does not stand up. The chief prosecutor and five of the 18 judges are Africa, while half the current cases were referred by African governments themselves. There are also inquiries into possible cases in Afghanistan, Colombia and Georgia.

No one should be fooled those African leaders demanding immunity are driven by the interests of their citizens. As the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, they were “effectively looking for a licence to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence”.

It was noticeable the country pressing the proposal yesterday was Rwanda, whose own bloodstained dictator Paul Kagame deserves to be in the dock given his actions in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Ethiopia – another of the most repressive regimes on the continent – was another key backer.

And it is impossible to ignore that Kenya is a country scarred by a corrupt ruling class and cycles of political violence. This year’s election thankfully passed off peaceably, but those responsible for previous outbreaks in 1992 and 1997 evaded justice with impunity.

There is still some way to go before Kenyatta appears in the dock – but yesterday’s vote marked a rare triumph of human rights over realpolitik.

Related Posts

Categorised in: , ,