Ah, international jurisdiction…what kind of mischief is it going to get into next?

First Pinochet and now Bashir…when will it all end? With the stroke of the pen and a few choice words like “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo got half the world red-faced with fury as the other half rose with delight.

First Pinochet and now Bashir…when will it all end? With the stroke of the pen and a few choice words like “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo got half the world red-faced with fury as the other half rose with delight.

It seems to me that this; once little unknown legal jargon, is fast becoming a house-hold term that even those without formal legal training can go on and talk about.

Here in Rwanda, because of the French and Spanish judge’s shenanigans, International Jurisdiction is almost synonymous with the word genocide itself – both invoke distasteful memories.

However, it would be unfair to chip away at this legally loaded word,  without looking at the larger issues at stake; the biggest one being state sovereignty versus the need to protect fundamental human rights from violation by ‘untouchable’ political leaders. 

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, especially here in this country, we don’t look at the larger picture. Certainly the indictments that were made against our top leadership by some judges were unwarranted, literally, and ‘eye-brow raising,’ to say the least especially the French attempts, at settling old scores.

In fact, the questions and suspicions that were raised by the Rwandan and African Union leadership weren’t new at all.

Former US Secretary of State in the Richard Nixon presidency, Henry Kissinger, argued that that this kind of legal phenomena would lead to a kind of “universal tyranny-that of judges”.

He believed that, since any number of states could set up such universal jurisdiction tribunals, the process could quickly degenerate into politically-driven show trials in attempts to place a quasi-judicial stamp on a state’s enemies or opponents.

That was what, I and most Rwandans, believed was happening here; some French and Spanish fellows were trying to put a judicial ‘black spot’ (in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, a pirate is presented with a “black spot” to officially pronounce a verdict of guilt or judgment) on Rwanda.

Thus, awarding us an international pariah status of some kind. Those are the nuances in the negative facets of international jurisdiction magnified by Rwandan media.

However it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Personally, I think that it is a formidable weapon that, like a nuclear bomb, should be used sparingly and as a last resort. Lets look at the Sudanese context.

No man in his right mind could call Omar al-Bashir an angel. With his complicity, people are dying like flies, women are raped, while others flee from the ‘Devils on Horseback’ as the Janjaweed are known.

Even if he wasn’t personally responsible for the Darfurian deaths, he was, and is, obliged to protect his citizens from harm; something he has utterly failed to do.

And personally, I feel nothing for a fellow who responsible for such a human catastrophe, in which Rwandan soldiers perish. 

The problem with fellows like him and others of his ilk, like ‘Uncle Bob Mugabe’, is that no one in their nations have the clout to make them answerable for their transgressions, on the one hand while on the other they are beneficiaries of anarchy in Global Politics.

Most of the time, the citizens make a ‘devils pact’ with the strong man and promise to leave him alone as long as he leaves power.

This is what happened in Chile with Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He arm-twisted the body politik of Chile, got immunity for all his possible crimes and became a senator for life to boot.

He was practically untouchable in Chile, and the Chilean people were so happy to see the back of him that they ‘forgave’ and ‘forgot’ his crimes which included kidnappings and murders. Happily, some people hadn’t forgotten anything.

He was put to task by a Spanish judge, the irony of it, and because of the process that begun in the Iberian Peninsula he lost his immunity and, more importantly, diminishing, his aura of ‘un-touchability’ that had so frightened the Chilean people.

I’ll bet that the Chileans will not be bullied so frightfully by any kind of ‘Strongman’, again. This boldness will only help Chile’s march towards a fully democratic future.

This wouldn’t have been possible if there wasn’t a mechanism that could make this fellow account for his actions.

Instead of endlessly knocking it as a weapon used by the rich West against us poor Africans perhaps a few tweaks of the existing norms will make it a wonderful weapon against all those fellows thinking that they have a ‘right’ to make their citizens suffer .

The Belgians, who had voted for the “law of universal jurisdiction” allowing it to judge people accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, modified it and established conditions that the accused person had to be Belgian or present in Belgium.

I’m not saying that this was a perfect solution but it was a positive attempt nonetheless.   No one should be above the law; not even those who think that they have the courts in their back pockets.

Contact: sunny_ntayombya@hotmail.com

 

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