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Tuesday, 25 October 2016 07:55

Is the International Criminal Court Reinforcing Racist Stereotypes?

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internationcrimThe International Criminal Court in the Hague (Photo: ekenitr)

In an October 25 Los Angeles Times article, this question was asked about the International Criminal Court (ICC): Why have "only Africans have been tried at the court for the worst crimes on Earth"? The International Criminal Court began enforcement for "crimes against humanity" (among other charges) in 2002 in the Hague.

In 1999, Slobodan Milošević was brought to trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (IICTY); his prosecution preceded the ICC. Therefore, he was not an exception to the rule of the International Criminal Court, which thus far has been to only conduct prominent prosecutions against Africans.

It would take much more space than this commentary allows to fully explain the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, but suffice it to say, it is not limited to Africa. It includes almost every nation on the planet. Therefore, it is a bit curious as to why so much prosecutorial effort has been focused on the crimes of African leaders.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former ICC chief prosecutor, gave his opinion to the BBC:

Mr Ocampo argues that African leaders should use the "tools" of the court to develop a level playing field with the world's superpowers by holding countries like the US to account.

One way they should do this, he argues, is by supporting the ICC's preliminary examination into the alleged mistreatment of detainees by US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

It may be an academic point but it requires unanimity of purpose among the very leaders who are the biggest critics of the court.

That may be a bit of a challenge, because two nations who have not ratified the treaty creating the ICC are the United States and Israel. 124 other nations have signed onto the jurisdiction of the court.

It is also important to recall the history of contemporary Africa. The continent of Africa was divided up by European colonial powers and was a laboratory for the colonial torture and mass murder of Black people, as well as the capture of human beings who were then sold into slavery.

So many horrific deaths resulted from the European conquest of Africa and its division into European-run "states." The lives of Black Africans were deemed to be of value only if they could be mercilessly exploited to mine minerals, diamonds and other natural resources that were valuable to the West. The colonial white nations of Europe enacted brutal, systematic violence against Africa. Now, the ICC seems to ascribe that type of violence only to Africa -- and not to Europe, the US and Israel, which continue to carry out systematic violence in locations such as Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

One singularly abominable act of willful monstrosity in Africa occurred in the Belgian Congo (then ironically called "The Free Republic of the Congo") more than a hundred years ago, as described by blogger Baffour Ankomah:

The agents of King Leopold II of Belgium massacred 10 million Africans in the Congo. Cutting off hands as we see in Sierra Leone today, was very much part of Leopold's repertoire. Today, Leopold's "rubber terror" has all been swept under the carpet.

That provides some historical context for the ICC's status as a body of judicial redress in relation to the current situation in Africa.

The BBC article contains another incisive quotation on the hypocrisy of nations like the US and Israel, which both claim they are victims of terrorists and atrocities that fall under the court's jurisdiction:

"Some of the world leaders are part of the judging but they're not bound by it. It's like saying: 'I'll be the judge but me and my children will not be bound by it.' It creates a very unhealthy dynamic," argues Thuli Madonsela, South Africa's former anti-corruption chief.

Even though there are 124 signatories to the ICC, it has a particularly close relationship with the UN Security Council -- the UK, US, China, Russian Federation and France. It is not likely that the Western perpetrators of conflicts over natural resources (including fossil fuels) are going to be held accountable for the heinous actions of their proxies in Africa. The West has long been very good at setting up "fall guys" in the Global South.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the South Africa's legislature will probably vote to leave the ICC. It will likely become a more active participant in the The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, which was initiated by the African Union in 2009, according to the BBC report.

South Africa would be taking a bold step in walking away from an international court -- a court which appears to have an egregious double standard when it comes to assessing who is responsible for unconscionable war crimes and other atrocities.

Not to be posted without permission of Truthout.