Why world needs a fairer ICC

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo appears before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on January 15 2019.
Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo appears before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on January 15 2019.
Image: Peter Dejong/Pool via REUTERS

The credibility of the International Criminal Court was dealt another blow yesterday with the acquittal of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo.

The former head of state, and a close ally of South Africa during president Thabo Mbeki's era, has been jailed in The Hague ever since he was controversially snatched from the west African nation by French-backed United Nation forces almost a decade ago.

Gbagbo was the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. He was accused of being behind the violence that erupted in Ivory Coast in 2010, leaving over 3,000 people dead, after a disputed election in which Alassane Ouattara, a firm favourite of the former colonial ruler France, was declared the winner.

Despite demands from African nations, and their allies around the world, that the ICC act fairly by also charging those accused of violence from Ouattara's side, only Gbagbo and one of his supporters were prosecuted. Hence began the suspicion, which has clearly become prevalent that the ICC was not interested in justice - but rather in punishing African heads of state not favoured by powerful western powers.

In this context that the ICC prosecutors' failure to present a winnable case against Gbagbo is likely to play into the hands of those who oppose the court. It comes just a few years after current Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta also walked out of the court a free man due to lack of evidence against him.

At its inception, the ICC was a noble idea - a court of last resort for victims of violence who would not get justice in their own states.

But so far, in practice, it appears to have little appetite for acting against perpetrators of violence and human rights abusers in volatile parts of the world such as Palestine, Ukraine and Venezuela.

On our continent, when it does prosecute, it targets those in conflict with the powerful capitals of the world. And even with them, it is unable to win its cases.

The ICC is a very important instrument to hold the powerful to account. It should not fail. But for it to succeed, those who run it may have to reconsider how it operates. It must be seen to be pursuing all perpetrators of crimes against humanity without global politics considerations.

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