Cote d'Ivoire: Laurent Gbagbo and the ICC
19 December 2011
Former president of Cote d'Ivoire, Mr Laurent Gbagbo, earlier this month appeared at the International Criminal Court to answer to charges of crimes against humanity. He is the first ex- head of state to be arraigned before the ICC since it was established in 2002 by the Rome Statute.
He faces a four count charge of crimes against humanity. Not a few people, especially in Africa, who have become weary of the various crimes committed by African leaders, would say 'serves him right', because he failed to recognise the signs that his time was up.
Gbagbo is not the only African at ICC headquarters in The Hague. A number of Africans are also facing charges there. Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, who is on trial for war crimes, is also in the Hague, but under the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone. Other Africans facing charges at The Hague include warlords of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jean Pierre Bemba and Thomas Lubango.
The largest group of Africans facing charges at The Hague is the so-called Ocampo Six, mostly prominent Kenyan politicians and officials indicted for being the most responsible for the post election violence in Kenya in 2007. (…)
The intervention of the UN and France led to Gbagbo's capture; he was placed under house arrest in the northern town of Korhogo from where he was then extradited to The Hague. Not surprisingly Gbagbo and his supporters cried foul, saying that his extradition was illegal.
There is no denying that the role of the ICC in Africa is a controversial one. Africans have long accused the court and its chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of singling out Africans for persecution. (Ocampo's ended his ICC tenure last week.)
Omar el Bashir, president of Sudan was the first sitting president to be indicted by the ICC, which issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the conflict- ridden region of Darfur in western Sudan. The AU kicked against the ICC's position calling for a suspension of the warrant of arrest and asking African states not to comply with the order as it would jeopardise the search for peace in Darfur.
Signatories to the Rome Statute, including some 30 African states, are obliged to arrest Bashir if he sets foot on their soil, obligation largely ignored by African states.
Since the AU is opposed to ICC's intrusion into Africa, it is imperative for it to develop its own legal mechanism for bringing African leaders who commit atrocities against their own people to justice. This is easier said than done. After all the UN doctrine of responsibility to protect known as R2P obliges every government to protect its citizens; if not, the international community has the responsibility to intervene in exceptional circumstances.
However, countries that have the capacity and are willing to intervene are often Western powers, which have their own agenda. Some see the ICC as an instrument of Western imperialism and domination .The fact that the US, the foremost champion of democracy and the rule of law is not a signatory to the Rome Statute is a telling underpinning of this point.
Impunity reigns supreme in Africa, especially among leaders who feel it is their birthright to stay in power indefinitely, using all tactics, including brutal ones, against their opponents and their own people. Gbagbo's fate is a salutary lesson to other African leaders bent on staying in power longer than the law permits.
In the final analysis, particularly in the Gbagbo case, it is important that the ICC be seen to be even-handed in its approach in prosecuting those responsible, if it is to help in the reconciliation process in Cote d'Ivoire.