The latest in Global Justice news: South Africa move to withdraw from International Criminal Court (ICC) prompts international outcry; ICC approves first symbolic reparations plan for victims of Thomas Lubanga; Jean-Pierre Bemba and five others convicted of witness-tampering; ICC prosecutor monitoring alleged extra-judicial killings in the Philippines; Colombian government and FARC begin new peace talks; Burundi opposition groups urge sanctions over country’s vote to leave ICC; and much more.
South Africa: Stay with the ICC
South Africa’s notice last week of its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has drawn widespread condemnation from civil society groups and calls for reconsideration from the international community.
The move to leave is a deplorable betrayal of millions of victims of the gravest human rights violations that undermines the international justice system, and is detrimental to South Africa’a post-Apartheid legacy of human rights progress, say national and international civil society groups. The withdrawal bid may be rooted in domestic politics according to some analysis.
Rights groups further stressed that outside the Rome Statute system South Africa would be unable to help increase the effectiveness and global reach of the ICC and international justice. Since 2009, activists across Africa have joined with international groups to call for African governments to support and strengthen the ICC, instead of undermining it.
Sidiki Kaba, president of the ICC governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, urged South African and Burundi governments to reconsider their decisions to leave the ICC and “to work together with other States in the fight against impunity, which often causes massive violations of human rights.”
Civil society has called on all ICC member states, along with regional and international organizations and other actors, to publicly reaffirm their commitment to the ICC and international justice. The European Union and its member states said they “remain staunch supporters of the ICC.” Switzerland meanwhile underscored that African governments have repeatedly requested ICC investigations.
With a year needed before South Africa’s withdrawal would take effect, civil society organizations and opposition political groups argue that since parliament voted to ratify the Rome Statute it should also have a say on withdrawal. They indicated that they will challenge the constitutionality of the move in South African courts. Parliamentarians for Global Action called on its South African members to make a stand against impunity by opposing the withdrawal move.
The issue of immunity for sitting heads-of-state and high government officials is at the heart of current challenges. South Africa has said that being part of the ICC compromises its efforts to promote peace and security on the African continent, citing “fundamental differences” on the Rome Statute cornerstone provisions prohibiting immunities. However, the ICC treaty does not bar any active role in peace negotiations said civil society this week.
In 2015, Pretoria’s high court found that the government had failed in its obligation as an ICC member state to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he visited the country in June 2015 to attend an AU summit. Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Darfur. South Africa’s Constitutional Court is due to rule on a government appeal next month.
ICC withdrawal will not apply retrospectively in relation to South Africa’s legal obligations as a state party to the Rome Statute.
South Africa has also indicated that it will move to revoke the country’s act implementing the Rome Statute into national law that provides for domestic prosecutions of grave crimes.
First ICC victim reparations plan approved and ready to implement
Lubanga was found guilty in 2012 of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 into the militia group Union of Congolese Patriots ( Union des Patriotes Congolais) in Itru, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The proposed symbolic reparations project provide for an enabling environment to develop and implement service-based collective reparations awards and creates a safe environment for victims to come forward and voluntarily participate in the service-based collective awards without undue fear for their safety or reputation,” said Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court.
The TFV must file a report on the implementation status of its plan every three months. The Chamber is set to issue its decision on non-symbolic collective reparations programs in due time.
Bemba and four associates convicted in ICC witness tampering case
On 19 October 2016, former Congolese politician and militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and four of his associates were found guilty of various offenses against the administration of justice during the course of Bemba’s separate war crimes and crimes against humanity case at the ICC – Bemba was sentenced to 18 years for those crimes in June 2016.
“No legal system in the world can accept the bribing of witnesses, the inducement of witnesses to lie or the coaching of witnesses. Today’s judgement sends a clear message that the court is not willing to allow its proceedings to be hampered or destroyed,” said Bertram Schmitt, the presiding trial judge.
The conviction, which all parties have 30 days to appeal, marks the final stages of the ICC’s first witness tampering trial, which began one year ago in September 2015. Should the verdict be upheld, the Bemba and his associates may face anywhere from a fine to five years imprisonment.
ICC monitoring alleged extra-judicial killings in The Philippines
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released a statement regarding the alleged extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users in The Philippines, expressing deep concern about public statements by senior Philippine officials condoning and encouraging killings which may number over 3,000 in the past three months alone.
“My Office, in accordance with its mandate under the Rome Statute, will be closely following developments in the Philippines in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resort to violence with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination into the situation of the Philippines needs to be opened.” said Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
Tribal minorities in the Philippines have been demanding justice, and now a member of the senate has joined the call for the ICC to investigate the alleged killings since the beginning of recently elected President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
Extra-judicial killings may fall under ICC jurisdiction when committed as part of a widespread policy directed against civilians. Since the Philippines is an ICC member state, the Court has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed on the territory or by Philippines nationals after 1 November 2011.
International Criminal Court investigations
Democratic Republic of the Congo: ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda releases statement on her office’s mission to the DRC from 16-20 October 2016 as UN probe finds use of excessive force by security forces against protesters last month
Côte d’Ivoire: Why the pursuit of justice must continue after UN peacekeeping operations end in June 2017
Uganda: To participate or not? Getting victim participation right in the case of Lord’s Resistance Army’s Thomas Kwoyelo at Uganda’s International Crimes Division
ICC preliminary examinations
Gabon: As Gabon refers itself to the ICC, others threaten to withdraw
Colombia: Colombian government and FARC begin talks on new peace deal to end civil war
Afghanistan: UN report says July attack on peaceful protests in Kabul may amount to war crime
Campaign for Global Justice
African parliamentarians, civil society, UN representatives and officials alarmed by Burundi’s decision to leave the ICC
Can ECCC ruling on Cambodian genocide serves as good precedent for North Korea abuses?
Around the world
Possibility of international justice questioned as calls for prosecuting war crimes in Syria grows.
Iraqis fleeing IS-held areas face torture, disappearance and death in revenge attacks.
UN report finds that July attack on peaceful protests in Kabul, Afghanistan may amount to war crimes.
Croatia charges eight former Yugoslav Officers with war crimes.