By Shawn Macomber • Lawfare Tyranny
Though she eventually — and, alas, more than a little predictably — trots out the unpersuasive argument that the multitudinous failures of the International Criminal Court can largely be chalked up to a lack of funding, this openDemocracy essay by Human Rights Watch Senior International Justice Counsel Elizabeth Evenson detailing “just how far the ICC still needs to go to make its work accessible, meaningful, and legitimate in local communities” is a fascinating example of how even devotees of the Court can quickly be plunged into a dark night of the soul when they are intellectually honest about the institution.
Since investigations began in Côte d’Ivoire in October 2011, the ICC prosecutor has only opened cases related to alleged crimes committed in Abidjan, the country’s economic capital, and by forces affiliated with Gbagbo. This despite the well-documented facts that crimes were committed both by forces allied to the former president and those allied to Ouattara, the current president, and that many of the worst atrocities occurred outside of Abidjan.
So…rent-seeking and tailoring “justice” to the preferred power structure of the West?
Yeah, that sounds like the ICC, alright.
There was a certain logic to the limited focus of the prosecutor’s initial investigations. Gbagbo was already in detention and investigators had ready access to evidence within Abidjan. Investigating additional incidents would have increased logistical and security challenges.
Funny, then, how successful trials related to the same incidents outside the ICC have been…
But that initial decision to focus on pro-Gbagbo forces has persisted for several years. In the meantime, the prosecution’s one-sided approach has polarized opinion about the court inside the country.
The victims’ high expectations for impartial justice before the ICC — fueled by the fear, especially among the victims of crimes by the Ouattara-allied forces, that they would never get it at home — have given way to frustration regarding a lack of progress in prosecuting all sides.
The ICC’s proclivity for picking (dis)favorites really isn’t a newsflash. Unless, you know, you work at Amnesty International.
The combined effect of both the prosecutor’s failure to pick the cases that would address a broader range of crimes—and perpetrators—and the Registry’s failure to reach out to all sides on the ground was clear in interviews with Ivorian civil society members. “Victims that belong to the other side do not believe in the ICC,” said one human rights activist. “It is painful to say this because normally a victim does not have a side.”
Then again, victims are increasingly picking sides. And they’re not throwing their lot in with the ICC, an aspiring transnational behemoth that chases atrocities without deterring them.