Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Historic First for International Criminal Court

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th January, 2009

More than six years after the International Criminal Court was established in The Hague as a permanent war crimes tribunal, its first case opened today. The defendant (who has pleaded not guilty) is Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, who is charged with conscripting children under the age of 15 to kill, rape and pillage ethnic Lendus in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2003. More people have died as a result of the fighting in Congo than in any other modern conflict, but the crimes Thomas Lubanga is accused of are especially chilling — basically turning youngsters into automated killing machines through brutality and fear. As the Argentinian Chief Prosecutor at the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, says, ‘the children still suffer the consequences of Lubanga’s crimes’.

Other people the ICC would like to get its hands on include Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and — more controversially — President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan (over Darfur). But that is easier said than done. Many governments do not wish to cooperate with the ICC. Indeed, a significant number of countries have refused to sign up to the Court, including the United States, China, several Arab states and Israel. The Bush administration justified its boycotting of the ICC on the grounds that malicious prosecutions might be brought againt US troops for their actions in Iraq and elsewhere. Similarly, the Israeli Prime Miniseter, Ehud Olmert, has just declared that the Israeli government will ensure that no Israeli soldier will be at risk of prosecution for alleged war crimes in the recent operation in Gaza.

Despite these handicaps, this has been an historic day at the ICC. Those of us in Europe and elswhere who want to see a world in which no-one is beyond the reach of justice when they commit horrendous crimes should take encouragement from this and start to put pressure on Barack Obama and others to ensure that every self-declared democratic nation proves its commitment to the rule of international law by endorsing the ICC.

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