Crunch time for LMO

2012 will be the last year of Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s tenure as prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). He might have therefore wished for a slightly better christmas present than the news that court judges have just ordered the first-ever release of an indicted alleged war criminal: Calixte Mbarushimana of Rwanda.

Early in the New Year – probably in January – ICC judges will rule on the Thomas Lubanga case, and decide whether he should do a stint behind bars or be deemed a free man who was wrongly brought to the Hague. I obviously wasn’t privy to the Moreno-Ocampos’ Christmas celebrations, but as he pulled on the wishbone from his turkey he was almost certainly wishing for the former.

Most countries in the West have a right to be proud of their justice system – free, impartial and neutral, it really is a beacon that we can be proud of. Spend a little time in African countries – Uganda, Sudan, the Congo, even Kenya – and you will quickly find that ‘justice’ is the domain of the rich and that the poor have to scavange around for the scraps that have been cast off by the aid agencies. There is no real justice in these countries.

This is why the ICC was created – to give a chance for the downtrodden to have access to justice that would otherwise be denied to them.

However, from the point of the view of the prosecutor, he wants to win. He needs to win. He has to be seen to be making a difference in the world.

To lose his first ever case – which has already endured so much criticism since Lubanga essentially is one of the smaller fish in a whole web of tyrany, and also some of the evidence that the prosecutorial team came up with was highly suspect – would be a terrible blow for Moreno-Ocampo and more broadly for international justice as a whole.

I don’t want to suggest that, if Lubanga’s case is thrown out, the ICC will cease to exist. But an ‘innocent’ ruling will certainly provide ammunition for those critics, like myself, that has serious concerns about the way the ICC has been conducting itself over the past ten years or so.

I plan to write a longer opinion piece about the significance of the Lubanga ruling in the coming weeks.

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