The world order is in dire need for justice. It appears that political, economic concerns take a higher place in international relations than the issues of justice and equity. This gloomy image of the international system is indicative of a similar lack of justice within the sovereign borders of States, who form the core of the international system. The horrible tale of this lack of justice across the world show up in genocides, war crimes, and crime against humanity, perpetrated by governmments or non state actors who could be domestic, transnational or global in orientation.
The lack of justice is a lot deeper than unconscionable levels of violence that we learn of through media going on within and across several states in the world. It is manifest in poverty, increase in food prices, deprivation of human rights, absence of ‘human security’, and socioeconomic and political exclusion. I can not possibly exhaust the list of injustices in the contemporary political system. These trends have often combined to terrorize the traditional state structure and the international system built around it. So it is very important when institutions like the International Criminal Court (ICC) is established, supported and permitted to work.
The establishment of the ICC is in itself a witness that the contemporary international system is adjusting to the realities that lack of justice in the world is the greatest threat to peace. And it also indicates that individual states are willing to ensure those conditions that make for just and peaceful living. But these indications are more about intentions and consensus than a fulfilled reality. It is still work-in-progress and a long one at that.
The Court has 122 states that have ratified its establishing statute. African states represents a majority- 34 in all, at the moment. And that is the highest membership figure from all the continents.
Africa’s impressive membership in the ICC is significant. First, many war crimes have occured in African states. This is not unrelated to the very fact that many proxy wars were fought on African territories, mostly in form of brutal civil wars. These civil wars recorded crimes against humanity including the ‘use’ sexual violence and rape as weapons of war, and recruitment of child soldiers. In Rwanda, a genocide resulted. It may be argued that the several decades of civil wars in African states have left the continent awash with small arms and light weapons, a legacy of unaddressed violence and crimes against humanity, socioeconomic, political, and identity crisis.
The rebirth of the Organization for African Unity as the African Union in 2002, had its origins in a strong desire by African leaders to prevent these security and humanitarian nightmares from continuing. There was an understanding that the United Nations could not possibly handle all these incidences and it sometimes arrived too late. Therefore African governments crafted broad peace and security mechanisms into the A.U Constitutive Act. These measures include a plan for an A.U Standby force, a Continental Early Warning System, and an African Court on Human rights. The consensus was a rejection of the old order characterized by military dictators and coups, rebel groups, and decimated communities. The African Union was one of the first international institutions that adapted the ‘responsibility to protect’ into its charter and was also instrumental in gathering support for the ICC Statute.
Given the A.U’s teething problems, the ICC’s mechanism for trying war criminals and thereby holding leaders up to new standards of responsible governance was timely and welcomed. The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, remarked, that rather than the perception that the ICC has been going after African states, it is these states and their governments that have requested for ICC’s help. Nigeria has sent no less than 65 requests and 28 of these communications have been included in the ICC’s preliminary examination.
What is the relationship like, in terms of ICC’s prosecution procedures? The ICC can conduct its own investigations in those states which are parties to its statute but it does not admit any case unless it is convinced that the national judicial system is not genuine or is compromised in the discharge of its duties in cases that have to do with crimes against humanity. Basically, cases have to be referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council under the provisions of its Article VII or by states which are a party to it. In other words, the ICC is a back up system that should complement national efforts. If a state deems that certain events are beyond its capabilities or fails in handling such events in the appropriate judicial manner, the ICC can come in.
Gradually, the ICC is putting pressure on the African system to change, positively and become more just.