Editorial

Warlord and war crimes

The International Criminal Court verdict against Bosco Ntaganda is a breakthrough

The conviction of the Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda is cause for cautious optimism that perpetrators of serious crimes cannot escape justice, even where they have evaded domestic laws. Ntaganda, known as “the terminator”, was pronounced guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. These relate to the 2002-03 ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a 2006 indictment by the Hague court, it took seven more years for him to surrender and months more before the trial could start. The conviction follows the ICC’s 2012 sentencing of Thomas Lubanga, the first to be pronounced guilty under the Rome Statute, also pertaining to atrocities during the Congolese conflict. The verdict in this latest case is a breakthrough for the prosecution, which has come under increasing scrutiny. It has even been forced to abandon high-profile trials involving heads of government owing to the intimidation of witnesses and tampering with evidence. In 2014, the ICC dropped charges of crimes against humanity on Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the first sitting President to appear before it, relating to the death of hundreds in the 2007 post-election ethnic violence. The judges held that the Nairobi government had not acted in good faith, as crucial evidence had been withheld from the prosecution. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor who has been in the midst of some of these reversals, described as “regrettable and troubling” a majority appeal decision last year. That ruling acquitted Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former DRC vice president, who was in 2016 convicted of war crimes and handed an 18-year sentence. In January, Laurent Gbagbo, former President of Ivory Coast, was acquitted of crimes against humanity. In the face of strong resistance to prosecute crimes committed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many African nations feel they were being selectively targeted. In an unjustified move, Burundi has quit the ICC, as also the Philippines.

Arguably the greatest challenge today to enforce accountability transcending domestic and regional borders could be linked to the surge of nationalism around the world. The genesis of the Rome Statute, adopted in 1998, made a modest beginning to ensure that serious atrocities committed by elected representatives do not go unpunished. The refusal of major states to bring themselves under the court’s jurisdiction has dampened such hopes. It is an irony that countries this year are marking the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods institutions. But the new world order they sought to usher in, underpinned by a rules-based system of global governance, is facing its biggest challenge yet.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 8:41:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/warlord-and-war-crimes/article28429645.ece

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