Global Policy Forum

Time Catching Up With War Criminals


By Patricia Ofori Atta

Public Agenda
June 25, 2007

The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Register of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Mr. Adama Dieng, has said that all influential people, particularly faction leaders in Africa who fuel devastating conflicts must know that they would face justice in the near future. He said the African continent has for the past three decades been the theatre of major conflicts which have claimed millions of lives of innocent people mostly civilians. Mr. Dieng made this known during the opening ceremony of the Africa Legal Aid in and the International Criminal Court Summit on the theme "The International Justice in Africa".

Mr. Dieng mentioned that the African Leaders who fuel those conflicts undoubtedly do so because of the long prevailing culture of impunity in the African continent. "Given the unprecedented momentum gained by the system of international justice over the course of this decade, one may assume that this would have a significant impact in eradicating the culture of impunity and prevent the recurrence of conflicts generated", he said. He stated that the equation between the emergence of the international justice and the prevention of conflict leading to sustainable peace in Africa is however far from being straightforward. "Wherever the international justice has been called upon to sort a nation out, it was to punish persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law, rather than prevent the occurrence of conflict", Mr. Dieng said. Mr. Dieng noted that the idea of international justice was developed as a response to gross violations of human rights already perpetrated. This he said should however, not lead to the hasty conclusion that international justice merely exists to punish and not to prevent.

The Chief Justice, Justice Georgina Wood, stated that the actuality of international justice has had a real and tangible impact on the nature of national peace; the character of civil strife; the duration of civil strife and the integrity of peace deals. Justice Wood said the International Justice System usually appears to be the other way round. "The International Justice System must be extremely sensitive to the needs of populations affected by conflict and war and for whose benefit they are working", she stated. Justice Wood said she was aware that the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) affirms, "that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured." She said the same statute recalls "that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes", adding that many of these conflicts in Africa, justice and amnesties have been seen to be in irreconcilable conflict and states have perceived a need to make a choice between the goals.

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