Rwanda: Experts Warn ICC to Go Local or Lose Relevance

Experts have warned the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it needs to bring in local experts from Africa and other parts to its team and work more closely with local institutions in order to try and deliver justice.

They were speaking in Kigali on Friday at a book launch by Dr. Phil Clark, a UK-based academician, who has published a book that heavily criticises the court for being too distant to communities it is meant to serve, especially in Africa.

The book titled: "Distant Justice: The Impact of the International Criminal Court on African Politics" has argued that the ICC and its backers have failed to understand Africa's emerging mechanisms of dealing with mass atrocities through local mechanisms.

"The ICC and its backers have paid insufficient attention to the diverse ways that mass crimes are being addressed across Africa. In various African states, a brighter future for justice is emerging at community, national and regional levels," he said, giving an example of Gacaca Courts in Rwanda among other examples.

He argued that the ICC has undermined domestic ability to build institutions that can respond to the quest for justice, explaining that when local courts in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri region moved to try their criminals, the whole process was overshadowed by ICC efforts.

Moreover, Clark said that the ICC is characterised by lack of presence on the ground where it investigates crimes, both by refusing to hire locals among its team members and failure to spend time at crime scenes talking to witnesses.

The academic argues that the future lies in empowering local institutions to provide justice instead of continuing to hope that a distant court in The Hague, Netherlands, will deliver justice.

He has argued that the main reason for establishing the ICC was the expectation that domestic institutions would often be unwilling or unable to prosecute serious crimes, especially those involving their own state officials, but the court it-self hasn't been able to do so because it relies on local governments to operate.

"It looks like the court needs governments more than governments need the court," he said.

He added that the ICC has mostly been "a waste of money", and advised that its resources should instead be used to empower local judicial mechanisms in Africa.

"My sense is that any deterrence by the ICC has been very limited," he said.

Rwandan experts on international criminal law and justice, including Rwandan prosecutor Charity Wibabara and seasoned lawyer Florida Kabasinga, agreed with Clark that international justice system in its current state is next to nothing.

They argued that it is marred with a lot of issues, including racism, being too distant to communities it tries to serve, and lacking the best approaches to investigate crimes whereby its prosecutors know little about the socio-political contexts in areas where crimes happened.

Wibabara said that it is currently problematic that the court's investigators are not allowed to spend more than ten days on the African continent, arguing that it poses a challenge for the collection of evidence.

"How do you collect evidence when you are not on the field of the crime?" she wondered.

She said that Clark's book is very relevant to the whole of the African continent, a part of the world where the majority of suspects indicted by the ICChave been coming from.

Kabasinga, a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), equally agreed with Clark that the ICC is very detached.

She also said that lack of understanding of local contexts and deep racism within the international justice system have made institutions like the ICC irrelevant.

"It is amazing the kind of racism that exists in the international justice system," she said, describing how she had to fight her way up at the ICTR. "They (western countries' experts) feel they know better than you".

In the case of the ICC, she argued that it has been a toothless institution, whose expectation that it would deter crimes has been impractical.

"The ICC is not deterring anyone," she said, deploring the court's lack of efficiency to punish criminals.

Based at the University of London, Phil Clark is a researcher in Comparative and International Politics, with reference to Africa. An Australian by nationality but born in Sudan, Dr Clark is also a political scientist specialising in conflict and post-conflict issues in Africa, particularly questions of peace, truth, justice and reconciliation.

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