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

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is supposed to bring war criminals to justice, but it has yet to deliver a single verdict. Can international law bring peace to war-torn regions -- or does it actually hinder the peace process?

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Calvin Ocora is afraid whenever he hears a rustling sound in the jungle. At any time or place, it could happen again, just like on that day in May that he barely survived.

Ocora had fallen asleep under the mango tree -- and that nap probably saved his life. If it had not been so hot, and the shade of the tree had not been so cool, Ocora and his eight goats probably would have been back in the village of Lukodi in northern Uganda when it was transformed into a killing field.

But as it happened, Ocora was startled out of his slumber when he heard a rustling. Instantly alert, he rolled into a ditch for cover, and then started running away from the rebels who were coming out of the jungle, boys in camouflage uniforms who -- on a signal from their leader -- started indiscriminately firing their Kalashnikovs.

Ocora's family, including his mother, sister, brothers and daughter, were killed. After the massacre, the killers piled up all 56 bodies and burned them. That is the modus operandi of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) under the command of Joseph Kony. The murderous sect leader is responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people over the past two decades. The dead -- so he claims -- have been redeemed, and should he one day be in power in the Ugandan capital Kampala, he intends to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments.

Kony is an indicted war criminal who many call a "devil," although he proclaims to be the "spokesperson" of God. He has retreated into the jungle and is gathering new child soldiers. They could burst from the dense foliage at any time, shooting their Kalashnikovs, heaping up mounds of corpses, mutilating those who try to flee, hacking off arms and legs, cutting off lips and ears.

Ocora has built a new round hut with a palm-frond roof. Every night, the man who lost his family is plagued by nightmares -- and every day he rails against Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Moreno-Ocampo knows nothing of this. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is sprawled in a chair of his office on the 11th floor, gazing out at the dreary rainy sky that hangs over the Dutch headquarters of global justice. Sporting a three-day beard, the Argentine props his feet up on the huge desk made of light walnut burl. He appears to be permanently in a good mood. He has been charged with the mission of bringing justice to the world.

Things are moving on the African front. A total of 12 arrest warrants have been issued against key perpetrators of violence on the continent -- four politicians and a militia leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo are already awaiting trial at the ICC detention center in Scheveningen. Now they are also taking action against the alleged mass murderer Joseph Kony. Moreno-Ocampo, humanity's avenger, talks softly and quickly. "We help in Africa, we protect Africa's victims, Africa has called on us for aid," he says.

But Calvin Ococa, for one, never asked them for help. "Western criminal justice doesn't bring us any closer to peace," he says. "We could have had peace a long time ago without The Hague."

Moreno-Ocampo's warrant came precisely at the point when Kony's emissaries were sitting with the government at the negotiating table, just when some observers thought that a peace agreement might be within reach. Kony refuses to sign an accord while the ICC arrest warrant remains in effect. He has gone into hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just across the border, where he rules as a jungle prince with up to 60 wives and an estimated 1,200 loyal fighters.

Over the past few weeks, the army has recommenced shelling, but that hasn't stopped the atrocities. Recently, over 400 people were reportedly murdered by the rebels during massacres around Christmas. The week before last, the LRA cautiously enquired in Kampala if it might be possible to resume negotiations.

Is that what this Moreno-Ocampo calls peace through justice?

This question is being asked by an increasing number of people -- and not only in Uganda. When the man in The Hague comes crashing down with his sword of accusations, he often reaps a storm of protests instead of the gratitude and fulfillment that he feels he deserves.

Exasperatingly, the International Criminal Court -- an ambitious enterprise supported by 108 member states -- could fail on its first and greatest project: bringing peace to violence-torn Africa.

Large parts of the world recently rose in opposition to the court once again when it announced last summer that it is seeking a warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

This prompted an angry response from the African Union, which asked the United Nations Security Council to make clear to the chief prosecutor where his competencies end. The Arab League was outraged that The Hague wanted to arrest a head of state. Sudan's ally China expressed "grave concern," and Libya and South Africa tried to block the indictment against Bashir in the Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had earlier expressed his opinion that a too-open search for justice merely compromises efforts to achieve peace. He warned the prosecutor that a warrant against Bashir would have "a very serious negative impact on efforts to achieve peace" in Sudan. However supporters of the ICC's position point out that Bashir has repeatedly announced negotiations on Darfur while his troops continued to -- as Moreno-Ocampo put it -- "murder, destroy villages and rape women."

Peace or justice? In faraway Germany even the respected daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung felt that it had the right recipe for combating violence in Africa. In a lead article about the struggles of politicians to broker a peace, it wrote that criminal indictments against African leaders are "a dangerous luxury."

That's also roughly how the people from Lukodi would put it. After the massacre, they couldn't bring themselves to build their round mud huts with their palm-leaf roofs on the exact same location where they had stood earlier. New Lukodi now lies 100 meters to the west of the ruins of the old village, which have long since been swallowed up by the jungle.

Edise Adong was seriously wounded in the attack. At the age of 40 she looks as if she were 70. She is too weak to remain on her feet for long periods. She cannot imagine why anyone would want to put that devil of a man Kony in a cell in The Hague that is more luxuriously furnished than the best hotel room in the nearby city of Gulu.

Nevertheless, justice must prevail, says Ocora. However, in Uganda they have their own methods: "We have to forgive -- even the perpetrators deserve a chance." Sometimes Ocora runs into his family's murderers in the neighborhood. "We even chat sometimes. Now they find their actions infinitely shameful. God will pass judgment on them one day."


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