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International Criminal Court Head Visits Africa

  • Scott Bobb

The president of the International Criminal Court has denied it is targeting African leaders, but says it is seeking to protect innocent civilians from atrocities and abuse. He made the remarks during a visit to Africa this week as the African Union prepares to discuss the Court and its work.

International Criminal Court President Sang-Hyun Song is visiting four African nations this week to counter a wave of criticism on the continent after the Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The indictment in March led some Africans to accuse the ICC of targeting African leaders for political reasons, which Song denied during a seminar in Pretoria.

"States must accept that judges cannot and will not take political considerations in account. They make a purely judiciary judgment on purely judiciary facts. There is no room for politics at the ICC," he said.

The charges of war crimes and genocide against Mr. Bashir followed ICC investigations in three other African nations, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Song noted that these last three cases were brought to the Court by African governments and the charges against Mr. Bashir were brought by the U.N. Security Council.

Sudan reacted by expelling more than one-dozen humanitarian groups from Darfur.

The African Union said the Bashir indictment could endanger peace efforts in Darfur. The African Union is hosting a meeting to discuss the Court next week. It is to be attended by the 30 African nations that signed the accord creating the Court seven years ago.

ICC legal advisor, Pankiso Mutshotshoko, said the indictment of the Sudanese president followed due judicial process.

"ICC has merely issued an arrest warrant pursuant to the request by the prosecutor. And after careful consideration of the evidence the judge has determined there was a reasonable case for the president of Sudan to answer," said Mutshotshoko.

Song said the main purpose of the ICC is to promote the rule of law.

"If our work is to contribute to reconciliation, affected communities must see justice being done," he said.

A researcher at Pretoria's Institute for Security Studies which hosted the event, Festus Aboagye, said the ICC could help strengthen African judicial systems and prevent future atrocities in conflict zones.

"The ICC's work in Africa is helping to inhibit potential conflicts because the war lords as well as state actors who engage and use non-conventional methods in prosecuting their war objectives know that it will only be a matter of time before they are brought before an appropriate court," said Aboagye.

Aboagye said the African Union should see the ICC as a partner in upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights. But he added that all sides need to recognize the difference between the political and legal approaches toward these goals.

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