In recent weeks, the media has been splashed with accusations that the International Criminal Court is only going after African leaders, even though the human rights violations on the continent have been less serious than elsewhere, such as Syria and Afghanistan. Peace and conflict specialist Mark Kersten shared his views.
The International Criminal Court ganging up on Africa? I don't agree. The first thing we need to recognize is that it's basically impossible to compare victims in one situation over another. I would categorically reject the suggestion that the seriousness of what was occurring in, let's say, northern Uganda in the late 1990s and early 2000s is significantly less worthy of attention that what is happening currently in Syria.
It's a very problematic game to get into if we're going to say: "Well, there's a thousand dead here and 500 here, so we need to pay twice as much attention where there's a thousand victims, or whatever it may be."
When you look at the contexts in which the ICC has intervened in Africa, I honestly do not think there is one in which the ICC should not have intervened. There is not one which isn't of sufficient gravity, doesn't have enough victims or doesn't have enough alleged crimes. All of the African cases in front of the ICC deserve to be considered.
Does the ICC reach far enough?
The question is: does the reach of international criminal justice - and the ICC, in particular - extend far enough? No, it obviously doesn't. I have never met a single proponent of international criminal justice who has said that it's good enough and that the fact that only certain countries come under the ICC's jurisdiction is fine.
I think that most people who believe in international criminal justice will tell you that, ideally, situations like Syria would immediately be referred to the International Criminal Court. However, Syria lies outside the jurisdiction of the ICC. The ICC could investigate and prosecute atrocities that have occurred there, but they haven't because it's up to the UN Security Council to refer that situation.
I reject the accusation that the ICC is somehow biased against Africa as a continent or is hunting Africans, as the Ethiopian prime minister said a few months ago. But there clearly is a perception problem if people are asking you why the ICC is picking on Africa.
One of the main problems - and the ICC itself is partly responsible for this - is its relationship with major powers. Since its inception, the ICC has become increasingly close to the Security Council.
It's intervened in two situations - in Libya and Darfur - at the behest of the Security Council. Yet within those referrals, there were very strongly political messages or restraints: that citizens of states that aren't members of the ICC would never get prosecuted. The United States, in particular, built in this constraint to protect its citizens. The ICC accepted that without complaint. It's also accepted other tailoring of these referrals, very political tailoring, and become closer to the Security Council.
If we look at African states in terms of politics and international relations, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that African states have always had a problem with the fact that the Security Council doesn't represent the balance of power in international relations effectively. So if a court is getting increasingly close to the Security Council, that's going to create problems for African states, and it's going to look like the ICC is just working at the behest of the Security Council.
Mark Kersten is creator and author of the blog Justice in Conflict.