Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Friday, 27 April 2012

Does Charles Taylor's guilty verdict signal the end of impunity?

(c) Galehr [CC-BY-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons 

Although that is not what the UK media would have us believe today. The likes of The Independent and The Telegraph have written lead articles suggesting that all leaders can be held accountable for their crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Independent froths:
Of even greater significance, however, is the milestone the case marks in the effort to ensure that even the most powerful individuals may be held to account under international law. As the first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremberg trials, Taylor's sentence sends the clear signal that even those in the highest positions are not untouchable.
So who might these most powerful individuals be? If we are talking about leaders of nation states, then we should look immediately at the the leaders of the United Nations Security Council; the Presidents of the USA, France and Russia, the Prime Minister of the UK, and the Premier of China.

Yet three of these leaders would face no sanction under international criminal law because they are not party to the Rome Statute that governs the ICC. The USA, Russia and China have not ratified the statute, and so are immune to any charges brought against their elites.

The likes of Presidents Bush, Putin, and Hu will never face criminal sanctions for their roles (aiding and abetting) war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Tibet to name but a few. Whilst the UK is a party to the ICC, how likely is it that we will see former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his Ministers, such as Jack Straw, brought to justice for their complicities in Iraqi and Libyan abuses?

The Independent conclude:
But so comparatively new, and awesomely complex, an endeavour as the establishment of international criminal procedures was never going to be easy. For all the criticisms and caveats, the most important point is still that the so-called Big Men who have held sway in Africa – and in the Balkans and the Middle East – for so many decades have witnessed an hour of reckoning at last. No longer can they rest easy in the comfortable assumption they may do as they please, however atrocious, without fear of the consequences. Position and power place no warlord above the law. With the conviction of Taylor, the days of impunity are over.
(c) Strassengalerie [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We see the court, and perhaps the court sees itself, as being responsible for prosecuting those easily identified as “monsters” or “bogey men”; we change the language from “leaders” or “heads of state” to “warlords” or “dictators”. They come from places that are understood as being “troublesome” or “failed states”. Just as with our domestic criminal justice systems, our eyes averted from the crimes of the powerful.

This is a thorny issue for Africa, as the ICC predominantly prosecute African leaders without taking any action against more powerful Western leaders. Afua Hirsch's blog, and the comments on it, further demonstrate the distrust with which this Westernised legal structure is perceived.

Unlike our domestic criminal justice systems, which have the power to hold public officials to account (regardless of how often they pursue a charge), the ICC has no authority to hold the more powerful state officials to account at the international level. As long as the more powerful countries are able to elude the long arm of the law, any justice can not be free from political interference.

Consequently, it does not signal the end of impunity. 

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