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

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Part 3: Admitting Guilt


Years ago, there were many who called for a similar approach with former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian President Charles Taylor. In 1999, when Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, openly accused then-dictator Milosevic of crimes against humanity, the allies in NATO winced, even though they were bombing Belgrade in defense of human rights in Kosovo at the time.

"Fatal consequences for any compromise" in the Balkans, that was the outcome that many observers predicted, recalls Arbour. "The Russian delegate told me that I had revoked the basis for the negotiating process."

But history showed that the path of justice was not in vain. After his indictment, Milosevic was chased out of office and arrested. He died in 2006 during his trial.

It was a similar story with Charles Taylor. When the international Sierra Leone tribunal issued a warrant for the man whose militias had killed over 300,000 people in Liberia and Sierra Leone, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reportedly threw a fit. The UN was trying to convince Taylor to resign and accept asylum abroad in exchange for a pledge of immunity from prosecution.

Thanks to the warrant, and despite all promises made, Taylor was deported from his Nigerian asylum and arrested while his country continued down the road to peace. Today, the butcher of Monrovia is standing trial in The Hague.

And Moreno-Ocampo is sure that it will be a similar story with Sudanese President Bashir: "I can't make allowances for politics. I have to apply and implement the law." And a number of observers in the court share his optimism: "If the judges really confirm the warrant, it will be the end of Bashir." The indictment from The Hague would have such a destabilizing effect on domestic politics, they believe, that Bashir wouldn't be able to hold onto power. But he cannot flee, either. Every country that has signed the Rome Statute is obligated to arrest and extradite him. And many who work for the court have no doubt that this will happen.

Meanwhile, encouraging news has emerged from faraway Africa. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who recently worked as a mediator in the Kenyan crisis, has a sealed envelope in his desk. The envelope comes from a Kenyan investigative commission that dealt with the bloody unrest that shook the country in early 2008. After the elections, supporters of the government and the opposition attacked each other. The clashes claimed over a thousand lives.

The names of six ministers and a number of members of parliament are written on a list inside the envelope. These men allegedly incited violence. If Kenya fails to come to terms with the tragedy on its own, Annan has been instructed to give the envelope to Moreno-Ocampo. "Our politicians are trying to skirt the issue," says well-known Kenyan TV journalist Beatrice Marshall in response to a question about the back-up option in The Hague. "But we cannot have a climate of impunity."

Justice or peace? Kenya is divided. A recent survey showed that 55 percent of Kenyans favor putting those responsible on trial -- but 47 percent would prefer an amnesty arrangement.

And if Kony really comes? What happens if the Ugandan rebel leader who is wanted around the world steps out of the jungle and asks for amnesty?

In the little village of Pawel, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from New Lukodi, sits the wise man Jonas Kutiote, protected from the heavy tropical rain by a roof of palm fronds. He has years of experience with remorseful criminals. "First, Kony has to bring a goat with him." He says that is the equivalent of admitting his guilt.

Kony would slaughter the goat together with the victims -- for example, the village elder of one of the communities that he attacked. A bitter drink is brewed from the root of the oput tree and the animal's blood. "The perpetrator and the victim kneel down, fold their hands behind their backs, and drink together out of one bowl. Then the crimes are forgiven. Life can continue." In addition, some form of compensation, even of a purely symbolic nature, must be made.

"Mato oput" is the name of the ceremony, which is the main reconciliation ritual following an act of violence. The Acholi in northern Uganda have been resolving conflicts like this for centuries. "Our tradition is very strong. It can bring peace. Even Kony would be protected from acts of revenge afterwards," says Kutiote.

Revenge and punishment are not so important in traditional African culture. The idea is to symbolically restore the honor of the victims in an official ceremony. The perpetrator admits his guilt in front of everyone. A study conducted by the German aid organization Caritas claimed that mato oput is even capable of easing the severe psychological trauma that many victims, like the people from Lukodi, have suffered.

This explains why Calvin Ocora from Lukodi would rather rely on mato oput than on Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Ocora is still haunted by bad dreams at night. During the day, he sits under his mango tree and waits.

But there is no sign of the man with the goat.

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