Today the International Criminal Court found the Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda guilty on eighteen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a result, he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Ida Sawyer, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, is quoted as saying “Bosco Ntaganda’s 30-year sentence sends a strong message that even people considered untouchable may one day be held to account”.
While I completely agree with the sentencing of Ntaganda, I would like to take a closer look at Ida Sawyer’s statement.
The ICC was established in 2002 in The Hague, Netherlands. The intention of the court is to hold accountable those who have committed especially heinous crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Their website reads “The Court is participating in a global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, the Court aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again”. And since 2002 they have indicted 44 individuals found guilty. The problem? All 44 indictments have been Africans.
In green are the states that have signed and ratified the Rome Statute, the UN bill that establishes the ICC. In orange are states that signed the Rome Statute but did not ratify, and in gray are states that neither signed nor ratified. What does this mean? All the states in orange and gray cannot be investigated by the ICC. Notable signatories who did not ratify include: The US, Russia, and Israel.
In 2016 Gambia joined other African states in leaving the ICC. Stating that the ICC was unfairly persecuting Africans while ignoring crimes of the Western world.
While the intentions of the ICC are pure, its repeated persecution of African nations while being unable or unwilling to even investigate crimes taking place elsewhere threatens its legitimacy. It cannot be trusted to treat each nation equally and with dignity and respect while revealing such obvious bias. Treating everyone equally in the eyes of the law is one of the most important aspects of any justice system, and without that the ICC cannot “send a strong message” to anyone.