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by Max du Plessis
It has become fashionable to criticize the International Criminal Court for its exclusive focus on African cases. Developing nations, particularly from the South, now repeatedly and rightly complain about the skewed power relations in the
A decade after the court started work, the
Not only is this a tragedy for the Syrian victims of war crimes, it is also a telling example of the illusion of universal international criminal justice and the reality of politics frustrating the ideals of the ICC.
We now need to reflect soberly on the reality that all the cases opened by that court are in Africa. It doesn't help to insist that these African cases deserve the court's attention. Of course they do. But while crimes in Syria, or Palestine, remain beyond the court's reach, it becomes impossible to claim that the international criminal justice project is truly universal.
Ultimately, it is a question that any first-year law student is taught to identify: one of fairness and equality. So long as the
British newspapers reported widely on the refusal by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in September last year, to share the stage with
Archbishop Tutu has expressed a powerful moral view that the international criminal justice project is shot through with hypocrisy. While it is easy to dismiss the self-serving criticisms of the ICC by African despots and warlords, it is not possible to do so in response to the archbishop.
Another reason why the ICC perception problem can no longer be ignored is that this exclusive focus on Africa affords African tyrants and elites a gift, an excuse and a weapon. It allows them to draw attention away from African crimes by insisting that the spotlight be kept trained on the skewed nature of international criminal justice. And it allows them to do so with a straight face. It gives them a stick with which to beat the ICC.
It is no coincidence that the
Against this background, and in view of the
It is such efforts that demonstrate that a win-win situation is possible. That potential would be realized where the ICC does justice as it should to the African victims of the cases that are rightly before it and does justice to the victims of such crimes outside of Africa who equally deserve the court's attention.
It remains to be seen whether the members of the
It is in the interests of justice and the reputation of the ICC that it stretch its work beyond Africa. By doing so the court will deny powerful African elites the stick that they so easily and distractingly wave at the ICC. It will also -- where the evidence shows a need for the court's intervention -- be a means by which to pay homage to the principle of equal justice under law.
Max du Plessis is a barrister, Associate Professor,
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Justice Should Prosecute Beyond the Bounds of Africa - African Current Events