The International Criminal Court and Politics of Justice in Africa

Does being threatened with a war crimes trial actually prevent mass killings?

Can the International Criminal Court keep itself from being manipulated by players on the ground?

Come hear Alana Tiemessen, post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, discuss her research on how the International Criminal Court affects ongoing conflicts in Africa. Dr. Tiemessen is an expert in the fields of transitional justice, conflict resolution and human rights.

Monday, February 24, 2014
12:00 p.m.
Heller G-1
Lunch will be served!

9 Replies to “The International Criminal Court and Politics of Justice in Africa”

  1. The inherent conflict between making a decision between a non-political moral-based prosecution, or a partial ruling for the sake of political stability is quite interesting. This is especially true considering that impartiality and independence in the International Criminal Court is likely the most telling test of its credibility and legitimacy. Although it is easy to simply say that the ICC should always be 100 percent impartial in its rulings, and thus completely separate itself from the politics of the state that is is involving itself in, this is not always the most prudent decision. While such actions may be the most ideal, that does not mean that they would yield the most optimal results. I believe that their must be a least some consideration for the political ramifications that the ICC’s decisions may bring about, even if they ultimately do not sway the courts final decision. There are also some cases, such as the ICCs investigation in Uganda, that may push their hand in regards to their impartiality (with the Ugandan government threatening to withdraw their cooperation in investigations if their own officials were targeted). While this lead to a relatively one-sided prosecution, they assistance they received from Ugandan leaders also allowed the ICC to capture several LRA leaders. This leads one to wonder whether or not the ICC’s abandonment of impartiality was worth it;whether or not the ends justify the means. Ultimately, I think that it will have to come down on a case by case basis. With each individual situation havinga different “best action”. After all, the real world is not simple at all; it is an incredibly nuanced entity with multiple factors that affect it. It is thus unreasonable to assume there will be one blanket-answer of “yes” or “no” in regards to the way the ICC operates within it. Precedents can and should be broken if a better solution emerges.

  2. I took away a lot from the discussion on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Dr. Tiemessen’s expertise on the matter was a great insight to a global issue at hand. Explained to us were a handful of sample cases that were brought up to the ICC from Africa. Each example showed us the different possibilities that can arise when bringing people and countries to the ICC. A large issue when discussing the ICC and prosecuting possible war lords and political leaders is whether or not international guidance is needed and or whether or not the home country is able to take care of the situation. The role of the ICC is not to interfere in every nation’s problems but to be a last resort when it comes to helping nations fix their problems. Many problems arise when the ICC is left as the last resort when it takes means that seem to be unethical or benefiting those who are not deserving.
    The biggest take away from the discussion I got was that unfair means are necessary when it comes to international justice. Whether or not said unfair means justify a countries actions is considered a case by case issue, but overall, when the ICC is known to be a last resort to international issues, social justice should not be a main requirement.
    I also learned little things that are involved regarding the ICC. The Court functions through the countries military/policing system. There are many subjective factors that come into whether or not the ICC goes after the countries political powers or the war lords themselves. Issues in countries like Syria and North Korea are avoided due to interests by countries in the United Nation Security Council. What can come next from the discussion would be “what’s next?” Discussions can arise whether or not the ICC should require its own police force and if the ICC should increase in its intervention in these international issues or if they should increase its aid in nations and their inner policies.

  3. I thought this was an extremely interesting experience learning about the International Criminal Court and the politics of Justice in Africa. The argument Dr. Tiemessen regarding how politics influences which cases are selected by a State Party referral, a Prosecutor or the United Nations Security Council was thought-provoking and an idea that I had never entertained before. I somewhat agree with the idea that the ICC should target the leaders of rebel groups / warlords but I believe they should also be paying more attention to the Senior State and military officials; the ones who are calling the shots, giving the orders and supplying the rebel groups / warlords with their weapons. While the rebel groups / warlords crimes may have more “gravity” they would not occur if they did not have weapons. I thought that the Kenya case was the most interesting because it was the only one where the prosecutor initiated the case with his own power. It was a decision that was able to be free from politicization because the prosecutor is able to withstand more pressure from governments. What I learned from this presentation is that impartiality and independence is a test of the International Criminal Courts legitimacy and that they should focus solely on fixing the atrocities at hand.

  4. It was a great lecture. She focused on the negative side of politicization that exists in the International Criminal Court. Although I knew that the ICC cannot be 100 percent objective, I never learned that thoroughly. It is surprised to see the ICC’s bias towards Africa and the way they subjectively manipulated the ICC which is supposed be objective and impartial. Also, I saw the limitation of international organization. Like UN, these international organizations are formed by representatives from different countries. They do not have the real power to make decision. Every time, they have to get permission from the majority, which waste a lot of time. For the ICC, the prosecutor do not have the rights to make decision so he or she have to depend on a country’s power, which make the ICC more likely to be subjective and consider that country’s interest. For example, in the case of Northern Uganda, ICC cooperated with government against LRA and blind to government’s fault. That is not justice. The best solution is to give ICC more power to make objective decision. It is a place for justice instead of a tool to eliminate political or military rivals.

  5. Alana Tiemessen gave a wonderful talk about the International Criminal Court and its involvement in Africa. One of her main points regarded the bias the ICC is often accused of having when trying such politicized cases. She claimed that there are often two sides to every story regarding war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and yet the actions of one side are always regarded as more horrendous than the other. The position the ICC takes when dealing with these types of cases is to defend the side it determines is the lesser of two evils. The way in which the ICC decides which cases it is even going to be involved in is by taking into account several mediating factors. These factors fall under the “Gravity” criterion, which includes the scale, nature, manner of commission, and impact of crimes. The Court does not have jurisdiction in all areas of the world, and is often referred cases by either a state’s leading party or by the United Nations Security Council. An example of this limited power due to jurisdiction issues can be seen in the current situation in Syria. Both the United States and Syria are not members of the ICC, and therefore the United States can not refer Syria personally. Thus, in order for the Court to be able to intervene, the Security Council would have to make the referral. Of course, this would never happen because Russia and China vehemently support Syria’s right to national sovereignty, and do not believe President Assad is committing crimes against humanity. Tiemessen pointed out that although the ICC is meant to be an independent body striving for justice, it often is the case that it lacks legitimacy when it comes to these extremely politically sensitive situations. I was very happy to attend this lecture because it aided my understanding of the inner workings of the International Criminal Court.

  6. I found this lecture very interesting and enjoyable. Alana Tiemessen brought up points about the International Criminal Court that I had never thought about. For example, Tiemessen mentioned that few people get indicted by the ICC. First, there is a very big selectivity of how cases are chosen by “gravity” (the seriousness of the crime with the most responsible numeric threshold.) In addition, only the top people who are wanted by the ICC get indicted and other people go to the domestic court. Another interesting argument that Tiemessen made is how the ICC can stay impartial. From the Rome negotiations, the ICC authority is tied to the UN security counsel versus the authority resting with chief prosecutor. The fact that the UN security counsel is in charge of the ICC, means that the ICC will be impossible to be impartial.

  7. In this presentation Dr.Tiemessen solely focuses on the policization(bad politics) in the ICC. According to Dr. Tiemessen impartiality and independence is test of the ICC’s creditibility and legitimacy. The success of the ICC depends on the distance from political actors and empowering prosecutor. I personally enjoyed the quick overview of the internvention role the ICC plays in the 8 Africa conflict situations. Most of these situations demonstrated how politicization exaxerbated in instances of referrals.

  8. The initiation of Dr. Tiemessen’s lecture concerning the International Criminal Court and politics of justice in Africa was marked by a thought provoking differentiation between law and politics (a quotation by Judith Shklar); “politics is regarded not only as something apart from law, but as inferior to law. Law aims at justice, while politics looks only to expediency. the former is neutral and objective, the latter is the uncontrolled child of competing interests and ideologies.” The content of the lecture revolved around the apparent contrast between the ideal definition of the ICC (the International Criminal Court) in its identity as the politically neutral entity of justice, and the reality of its credibility illustrated through the involvement of the ICC in Africa. Dr. Tiemessen points out the direct ties the ICC has with the UN Security Council, and specific records of one-sided prosecutions (often related to external political influences) in Africa, as the jeopardizing factors of ICC’s credibility. The process in which the ICC selects the conflict to involve itself in is influenced by three factors: 1. Referral by the state party, 2. the Prosecutor’s initiative, and 3. Referral by the UN Security Council. With emphasis to the direct influence of the UN Security Council concerning the ICC, it is apparent that ICC’s frequent involvement in African states, and not in other states (with more international influence) that show human rights concerns, is not a coincidence. A major takeaway (out of many) from the lecture was the fact that since the ICC has no military power (or any power that grants it the ability to execute coercion), it must act in a certain way to maintain its influence in the international community. If a state referral is present, it means that the state is likely willing to cooperate in promoting the decision of the ICC within a conflict. Though the conflict is usually two ways in terms of brutality (examples mentioned during the lecture including: the civil war in Northern Uganda, Congo), war crimes of one side is overlooked by the ICC. Examples were also given of cases in which the ICC made biased and partial decisions in instances of UN Security Council reference (Sudan, Libya). With the ICC not being able to identify itself as an independent entity, it can only promote justice through (sometimes) biased politics. Dr. Tiemessen’s lecture was not only informative about the reality of the international justice system, but also induced the classic question of: “is there definite and unbiased justice?” Can the global society remove politics from its attempt at bringing justice to the world?

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed Alana Tiemessen’s lecture because she brought up points regarding the ICC that I had never thought to delve into before. Tiemessen spoke about the negative effects of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its involvement in international justice and human rights, especially in Africa. She raises the question, “When and where does justice become too politicized?” Her main argument was that despite the fact that the ICC is supposed to be an impartial court, it is really directed by a lot of bias, especially when deciding which cases it will investigate. She talks about how the decisions made regarding which state’s conflict to choose is usually very biased, because conflicts can only be selected by: State party referrals, the Prosecutor’s initiative, and by referral from the UN Security Council. However, there is an issue with all of the decision making power being in the hands of these select people because they usually select “personal cases” – cases that benefit their own personal interests. There is a lot of International criticism towards the ICC, with many who view the ICC’s prosecutorial strategy as reckless, politicized, and partial (especially regarding the Darfur civil war). One of the fixes that Tiemessen offers is that of the Rome statue negotiations which say: the ICC is too dependent on politics, and that the only way the ICC could become truly independent would be if the ICC authority rested solely with the chief prosecutor. I agree with this notion because later on in Tiemessen’s lecture she discusses a conflict that occurred in Kenya, which was the first situation to be initiated by an ICC prosecutor, and the first case to ever prosecute both sides.
    Although there is usually brutality on both sides, referrals from states, parties and the UN Security Council result in one-sided prosecutions reflecting external political interests. This is because the ICC does not have to prosecute both sides internationally, which results in the war crimes of one side being overlooked, as seen in the Congo, Syria, and the civil war in Northern Uganda. Tiemessen goes on to argue that the atrocities are grave on both sides, and that both sides should be prosecuted. This idea that both sides should be prosecuted is one that I thoroughly agree with. I found her lecture to be very informative, and I hope that one day soon, we can find a way to remove politics and bias from the equation when pursuing international justice and human rights.

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