'A Dangerous Luxury' The International Criminal Court's Dream of Global Justice

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Part 2: 'A World Without Justice'


Former members of the Lord's Resistance Army are not put behind bars. Many of them have returned to the villages where Kony once abducted them. The government under Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has come up with a unique approach for dealing with them. Since 2000 it has granted everyone who puts down his weapons unconditional immunity from criminal prosecution.

The Uganda Amnesty Commission is located in a Victorian villa in the center of Kampala. The walls of the building could use a coat of paint. Tucked in blue file folders are the stories of thousands of rebels, the majority of which are from the Lord's Resistance Army. Their names, ages and combat units have been noted here. Most of them are child soldiers who were abducted, tortured and forced to fight.

The state grants each of them a pardon, no matter what they have done. "It's the only way to draw them out of the jungle," says Bruhan Ganyana Miiro, the commissioner for the West Nile region. He is proud of the results of the amnesty commission. "We have pardoned 12,000 fighters from the LRA alone and brought them back into civilian life." That must have severely weakened Kony who, during his best years, had no more than a few thousand soldiers under arms.

The concept of forgiveness undermines the objective of the ICC to establish law and justice as something inevitable, especially in developing countries that are wracked by violence. The signal sent from The Hague, says German ICC judge Hans-Peter Kaul, must be a "worldwide continuously visible beacon" against lawlessness. It cannot "simply be turned off like a lamp that you don't want to see anymore."

Specialists in international law are taking a critical look at the African approach to reconciliation. Cologne-based law professor Claus Kress, who works as an adviser to the ICC, conducted a study on whether the widespread tendency of politicians to link peace talks with amnesty pledges has created a new "lex pacificatoria" ("law of the peacemakers") in international law -- a new let-bygones-be-bygones principle that puts reconciliation before justice. "Political decision-makers must work according to the assumption that international criminal law takes priority," says Kress. "This rules out automatic amnesties, at least for those who are chiefly responsible."

In other words, Ocora's model of forgiveness contravenes international law, at least according to the standards of The Hague. But what good is international law in the territory under the control of rebel leader Kony?

Far to the north, in the cooler climate of the Netherlands, Moreno-Ocampo has a clear answer: "Uganda's government has requested our aid." Moreno-Ocampo takes off his jacket and rolls up his shirt sleeves. "I apply the law and implement it in a world without justice."

The government used radio stations and flyers to publicize the amnesty offer. It took a while before the first combatants ventured out of the jungle. They have to flee for their lives from their units because Kony orders doubters in his ranks to be murdered.

Usually these traumatized individuals turn to the police or aid organizations, who refer them to the amnesty commission, which issues the applicant an amnesty certificate without any red tape. Even after years of atrocities, no one is forced to examine their conscience. They merely have to confess that they fought against the government.

Peace first -- that is the credo of the frightened and tormented victims of Kony's brutal campaign and the thousands of refugees wandering helplessly through the desert after being displaced by the alleged mass murderer Bashir. "But peace and justice," says Moreno-Ocampo, quoting the UN secretary-general, "go hand in hand."

That's all well and good -- but where does one begin? The UN Security Council has reportedly indicated to Kony -- yes, even to a man who has allegedly committed such heinous crimes against humanity -- that it would make use of its right to suspend the proceedings in The Hague if he signed a peace agreement.

Of course the most powerful organization of the most powerful countries in the world cannot afford to do something like that officially. And since Kony has never appeared at the many planned meetings to sign an agreement, the Security Council was easily able to extricate itself from its proposal. But the message from New York is clear, not only in the case in Uganda, but also with regard to Bashir: The Security Council is debating how it can restrain Moreno-Ocampo. Peace takes priority, justice comes later.

Peace or justice -- which comes first? Bolivian judge René Blattmann is the second vice-president of the ICC. He once served as the justice minister in his home country -- a nation plagued by a weak legal system and rampant violence. No doubt about it, he says, justice comes first. The reason: "In Greek mythology, Irene was the daughter of Themis, the goddess of justice." And the Greek name Irene means peace.

Peace is the daughter of justice, and war is the incarnation of injustice. German judge Hans-Peter Kaul asks how catastrophes like Hitler's genocide could ever take place in a country like Germany, with its respect for culture and its humanistic traditions. "Cynicism, apathy and indifference with respect to the law" -- this, concludes Kaul, is a large part of the explanation.

So justice takes precedence over peace after all? Kaul is seen as one of the founding fathers of the ICC, the man who handled the negotiations for Germany on the Rome Statute, the founding document of the "first court that is based on the free will of the international community." The "beauty of the court," says the former diplomat, is actually its independence from the UN and the resolutions of the Security Council, an organization driven by the power plays of the countries that enjoy veto rights.

But do they also see things this way in Uganda? Moreno-Ocampo has no doubts about it: "Kony has attacked children, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and in southern Sudan and in the Central African Republic. That is a violation of human rights. That is against the law both in Africa and in Germany."

The prosecutor pulls out "two scientific studies" that he says prove that they see things his way in Uganda: Only 1.8 percent of those surveyed in the north are familiar with the local rituals of conflict resolution, but 28 percent are familiar with the ICC. And 60 percent agree that Kony should stand trial. Moreno-Ocampo also says that it is a travesty to talk about peace taking precedence over justice here: "Kony has taken advantage of the peace mission to buy new weapons and abduct child soldiers." And the slaughter continues.

In order to pave the way for peace in Uganda, the Amnesty Commission gives each of its reconciliation recruits a foam mattress -- if possible, in the colors of the Ugandan flag, black-yellow-red -- a set of cooking pots, a hoe, a drinking water canister and 263,000 shillings, the equivalent of about €100 ($135). The government helps people find work and pays for job creation schemes.

"It has to be more attractive to give up than to continue fighting," says Ganyana Miiro. "The carnage must stop. That is our main objective." According to this approach to achieving peace, even Kony could walk out of the forest and return to civilian life under the protection of the amnesty.

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