The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, says he is working with a number of African countries to establish domestic justice systems for investigating and prosecuting war crimes.
“[We are] looking at…places in Africa as a way to strengthen judicial systems [and] that is very consistent with [the idea of] complementarity. [That means] the ICC [International Criminal Court in The Hague] gets involved only when there is no will or capacity at the national level [to investigate or try those accused of war crimes],” said Rapp, a former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone
One way to handle such crimes at the national level is through a “mixed chamber,” a national, civilian judicial institution that prosecutes serious human rights violations with the help of international experts.
Rapp said the Obama administration supports the ICC in its effort to prosecute individuals or groups of people who have allegedly committed human rights abuses or war crimes.
“The cases that have been taken up so far in Africa cry out for justice, he said, “[for example] where women have been raped and children kidnapped and thousands of innocents targeted intentionally. Those cases require justice and if it is impossible to deliver them at the national level, then you need an international court,” he added.
Rapp said he is working with the U.S. Justice Department and civil society groups to establish a mixed chamber in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He is also working with Senegalese authorities, he said, to establish an ad hoc court to try former Chadian leader Hissen Habre under the African Union’s mandate.
In another case, six suspects recently appeared before the ICC, accused of masterminding Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence, which left more than 1300 people dead.
“We are very much for accountability for the crimes committed after Kenyans were brutally murdered and 300 thousand dislocated. Kenyans strongly believe that there need to be justice before the 2012 elections because it could be worse the next time,” said Rapp.
“We had pressed from very early on for a special tribunal in Kenya to do that. We supported the report of Justice Phillip Waki [urging the creation of a tribunal]…. I was meeting the police commissioner this week, saying we are still willing to help in any way that we can. But, there hasn’t been any progress on that,” he added.