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ICC President Rejects Criticism That Court Targets Africans

FILE - The International Criminal Court building is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 16, 2019.

As the International Criminal Court faces criticism in the U.S. and on the African continent, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, president of the ICC, said he is hopeful relationships can be repaired.

In an interview with VOA, Eboe-Osuji urged the U.S. government to remember the role it has played in supporting war crimes courts dating back to the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal and more recent tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

"Lots of Americans support the court and wish us well. And the only thing now is for the government to also pay heed to the role America has played in this sort of endeavor in the past," he told VOA.

The U.S. has never ratified the Rome Statute that created the court in 1998. More recently, President Donald Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to the headquarters of the ICC along with attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal organization advocating for religious freedom and freedom of speech. Their trip was part of an effort to stop an investigation into allegations that American forces in Afghanistan committed war crimes in 2003 and 2004.

Sekulow filed a "friend of the court" brief stating his case. "Our heroes are being attacked — not with weapons, but with threats of legal action from a body with no jurisdiction over them," Sekulow tweeted.

The U.S. has imposed visa restrictions on members of the ICC investigating war crimes in Afghanistan.

Eboe-Osuji said he is "surprised" at U.S. hostility to the court, noting that rule of law and judicial independence are cornerstone principles of the U.S. justice system.

"We strongly encourage them to become part of the fold. It will strengthen the institution and it will strengthen that mechanism and ensure that its dividends spread out more widely and more robustly around the world," he said.

Eboe-Osuji was in Washington last week to deliver a lecture on the rule of law at an event named for late-Congressman Tom Lantos. Lantos of California was a champion of human rights.

Eboe-Osuji also strongly defended the court against accusations that it disproportionately targets Africans. In 2016 several countries threatened to withdraw from the ICC although only Burundi left the court. Currently, there are 33 African state members according to the ICC.

Eboe-Osuji said those criticizing the court are typically the powerful in Africa, not the victims of war crimes.

"I can tell you bluntly that I'm not impressed by those criticisms. When people tell me that, I tell them on whose behalf are you speaking? Are you speaking on behalf of the 800,000 Tutsi victims who were victims of the genocide in Rwanda? Are you speaking on behalf of the how many people in Sierra Leone who were amputated, hands amputated, by their fellow human beings?" he said.

Eboe-Osuji said for Africa to grow economically, it must put an end to the cyclical violence that plagues certain areas.

The ICC can help end the immunity felt by some leaders who promote violence, he said.

"For Africans, the matter of economic development is hugely important," he said. "Where war is erupting, you don't have economic activities going on. So this is one area where the ICC has value in the sense of putting pressure against those kinds of conduct," he said.