Perspectives on International Justice in Africa
By Richard Lee
The current edition of Openspace, a journal produced by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, focuses on international criminal justice. It offers a wealth of information, analysis, and comment about this critical and increasingly controversial concept. And there is something for everyone—from a succinct Beginner's Guide to a sweeping overview of developments in the field to academic articles on a diverse range of issues. [All links to PDFs.]
At the heart of current discussions about international criminal justice—and indeed of this journal—is the bitter dispute between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Africa, or more specifically the African Union. If you are interested in whether this relationship can be repaired, there are two contrasting opinion pieces – one arguing that the noisy complaints of AU elites can do nothing to stop the inexorable rise of international criminal justice because the concept is so widely accepted by African people, while the other—a scathing critique of the ICC—believes that even the selection of an African as the next Prosecutor cannot heal the rift.
Or perhaps you are wondering about what role the African Court (or indeed Courts since there up to four African Courts on the drawing board) will play in relation to international crimes. Or about what lessons can be learned from the experiences of the mixed tribunal in Cambodia or from the successes and failures of the outreach program conducted by the Special Court on Sierra Leone. Or—now that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is coming to a close—what duty African states have to apprehend and prosecute suspected genocidaires, who continue to live—often in luxury—in many countries of the continent.
But international tribunals are not the only arena for international criminal justice. Indeed, they should only ever be viewed as a back up—as a last resort when states are unable or unwilling to prosecute the perpetrators of mass crimes. The primary arena should always be the state. So there are authoritative articles on the need to strengthen domestic institutions and on the importance of complementarity.
And a series of pieces on the Democratic Republic of Congo—from a searing account of the trial and conviction of Lt. Colonel Kibibi for rape and crimes against humanity (and an award-winning set of photos) to a fascinating comparison between the work of mobile gender courts and their much more luxurious international cousins to an interview about the stuttering moves to create special mixed courts in the country to deal with international crimes. There is also an article on the long search for justice by the victims of the infamous Kilwa massacre, who took their case against a Canadian-Australian mining company to the Quebec courts—and won the first round (although they subsequently lost the second but the fight goes on).
And there’s much more—from an analysis of the progress that has been made in the campaign to make perpetrators of mass sexual violence pay to the debate over whether or not grand corruption should be added to the very short list of international crimes to a worrying column on the threats to a host of international judicial institutions. All of the articles are available for download on the OSISA web site.
There is no way that a single issue of Openspace could cover every angle or answer every question related to international criminal justice. But hopefully the diverse range of articles will spark debate because international criminal justice is about far more than just parading venal leaders through The Hague. It is about providing justice for the victims, protecting witnesses, ending impunity, deterring future crimes, and strengthening domestic institutions and respect for the rule of law.
And it is far too important to be left to the political and legal elites. So enjoy the journal and then join the debate.
Until May 2014, Richard Lee was communications and campaigns manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.