The struggle for a united face

Since I arrived at the International Criminal Court (ICC) review conference about a week ago, there has been a common theme under-pinning all of the panel discussions that I have been to.

It is this: that Africa is united in its support of the ICC. Leave aside the moment Libya – always a bloody inconvenience – and a few other north African states. For the main part, Africa is united – and the fact that the Africa Union refused to endorse the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was simply an indication of the strings that “certain states” are able to pull.

The opening remarks of all the main dignatories – Ban Ki Moon, Kofi Annan, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Yoweri Museveni, Sang-Hyun Song – were revealing. Each one of them stressed that Africa was standing united, and that the ICC is Africa’s court rather than a court against Africa. Certainly, Uganda, one of Africa’s aid darlings, has made support for the ICC very clear.

But I often find myself wondering exactly how unified the continent really is.

A few days ago, I got wind of a meeting of muslims of the Great Lakes Region, who were about to issue a statement criticising the court for its indictment of Omar al-Bashir and others in the Sudanese government.

I was invited to attend, but the meeting got postponed a few times, so that when it was eventually held it clashed with another interview I had.

Still, I hope that I’ll be able to meet some of the muslim leaders over the next few days. A fixer is working on this for me.

It seems that, even in Uganda, the front is not as united as the politicians would have you believe. And that perhaps points to a wider problem with this conference – that it is completely detached from reality.

Yesterday, I went to the most fascinating discussion so far at this event. It brought together victims and human rights lawyers, to discuss what are the most important issues about the ICC. Some of the points raised by these victims, who were astonishly eloquent in their addresses, went way beyond the rubbish being discussed in the plenary sessions. These were real victims talking, who had suffered, and was saying what was important to them. Why wasn’t Moreno-Ocampo listening?

Perhaps the most salient point was why is justice only being done to the LRA in Uganda, when crimes have also been committed by the UPDF. One reason is that the government is wiley. It knew that, after 2002, when the ICC mandate started, it must be much more careful not to commit human rights abuses. Fair enough – the ICC can’t prosecute any crime before 2002, but this is a problem, because it creates the perception that justice is one-sided.

As the head of one victim rights group put it, “Justice must not just be done. Justice must also be seen to be done.”

This morning, I was called by a Ugandan journalist who had a message for me from the Sudanese Ambassador to Uganda, who he had met yesterday. Intrigued, I went along.

The message came in the form of a book, which was going to be distributed to all delegates.

“The International Criminal Court: Europe’s Guantanamo Bay” was the title of the book.

And the author?

Well, it should have been no surprise. David Hoile. That shadowy fellow, an unashamed apologist for the Sudanese regime, whose previous book – which I only half-read, physically unable to continue – was an unconvincing attempt to justify what is going on in Darfur.

I wonder if I’ll learn any pearls of wisdom from this particular book.

(I should add that I probably will because, although Hoile may be irrefutably one-side in his presentation of the regime, his one-sided research is excellent. And his use of footnotes and quotations is certain to mean that I’ll have to work less in digging out relevant quotes and people that I want to interview. My book is also going to be critical of the ICC, although perhaps somewhat more nuanced.)

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2 Responses to “The struggle for a united face”

  1. David Hoile Says:

    Hi Blake, great blog – as always. I think “shadowy” is a bit questionable. I look forward to your review of my book on the ICC. I hope yours will be the first. As someone who obviously is drawn to Africa and its people I hope you will share my view that the ICC has been – and will continue to be – disastrous for the continent. It must be galling that everyone of John Bolton’s warnings about the ICC have been borne out (as you will doubtless see in the book’s conclusion). I am sorry you found my last book on Darfur unreadable – was it Darfur in Perspective or Darfur: The Road to Peace? The latter was the updated version and even longer. Strangely enough my conclusions are by and large the same as those of Rob Crilly in his book on Darfur. If you have the time please keep in touch and continue to ask all the right questions about Africa, Sudan and the ICC.

    • blakerig Says:

      Hi David,

      Good to hear from you! You’re right, “shadowy” was probably a bit much – I was going for the linguistic flamboyancy, as sometimes I am prone to doing, so apologies for that. I’m afraid that I can’t remember exactly which book on Darfur it was, and I don’t mean to imply that it was poorly written. It was very well written, but I had certain problems with the slant that was put on everything. Actually, both in that book and the ICC book, I don’t fundamentally disagree with anything that you write. The problem is that it looks at things in a very one-sided way, which of course is your mandate. I do wonder, though, if perhaps you could be more convincing by taking a more nuanced approach. Of course, I daresay your present position doesn’t allow to do that – so my criticism of your books is tempered with a certain understanding. On the ICC book, I actually don’t disagree with your fundamental arguments. I think that the politicisation of the ICC is a serious problem, and is in actual fact what my book will be about. Ever since there was talk of indicting Bashir, I was opposed to this, for a number of reasons. One – that it was almost certainly going to stop a durable solution for Darfur being found in the near-term. Two – it is clearly one-sided, what about the horrendous things the rebels are doing. Three – it is hypocritical for the US to back this indictment but then object to the ICC in so many other ways. I could go on, but these are basically the same arguments that you have very succinctly made. The only problem is there is another side to the coin.

      Indicentally, with Rob’s book, I couldn’t really fault it. I thought he took a very thoughtful look at the Darfur problem, and attacked some of the dreadful arguments that pervade the Western press. I share his disdain for the Save Darfur crowd.

      Would really like to have the chance to chat, perhaps when I’m next in London. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my book research.

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