How just is international justice?

The arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the official leader of the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo but living in Belgium, came as a shock to many but it is hardly surprising.

The arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the official leader of the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo but living in Belgium, came as a shock to many but it is hardly surprising.

Bemba is one of the high profile people to be arrested after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants of arrest. Bemba is the fourth person to be arrested by the ICC. He joins the former Liberian President and veteran warlord, Charles Taylor.

Other ICC suspects include former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga who headed an organisation known by the acronym UPC.

Bemba led the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) a force that participated in what has come to be known as the Second Congo War.

Bemba’s forces intervened in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) to defend the then beleaguered government of Ange Felix Pattasse in 2002, when it faced its first military challenge from forces loyal to the now President Francois Bozize.

Bemba is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The arrests that have so far taken place are of military leaders in conflicts on the African continent.

Whereas efforts by the ICC to bring to book war criminals are noble, it may create a situation whereby the ICC is criticised for confining itself to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Africans.

It is apparent that there have been many people who are not African but have participated in or sponsored conflicts on the African continent. In most cases they are never brought to book when the chickens come home to roost.

The ICC with all its good intentions is likely to be viewed as prejudiced against Africans. Those accused will complain that the court is preoccupied with crimes allegedly committed in Africa and by Africans.

Another bone of contention is likely to emanate from the fact that the ICC lacks universal jurisdiction. The implication is that it is only the countries which have ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC that are bound to the international court.

World powers such as the United States have refused to ratify the statute and thus have no obligation towards The Hague based international court. This creates a very big problem for the effectiveness of international justice.

The United States has long taken on the role of world policeman. Its forces have bases in most corners of the world.

In fact the US forces based in Japan have on a number of occasions been accused of committing crimes against local people including the rape of minors.

The international court may also face problems when it comes to making a distinction between freedom fighters and war profiteering criminal organisations involved in armed struggles.

A number of communities around the world have come under attack from different forces necessitating the taking up of arms as a means of self-defense.

The Kinyarwanda speaking Tutsi people of Eastern Congo have at different moments in time been targets of ethnic cleansing. The likes of Laurent Nkunda have been forced to take up arms in the defence of his people.

Nkunda’s struggle is a justified struggle, a struggle for the survival of a people. Thus it becomes a double jeopardy for people who are abandoned by the international community when they are faced with threats to their own existence.

In all wars, there is always collateral damage. This can easily be differentiated from war crimes that are deliberate and pre-meditated. Nevertheless Nkunda has on several occasions been accused by different international groups of war crimes. He has also been under investigation by the ICC.

The ICC with all its good intentions faces a number of challenges.