Role of the ICC In the International Justice System
INTERVIEW: The African Centre of International Criminal Justice on the 14th – 15th November held a two-day training workshop for over 30 Anglophone journalists from different African countries in Accra Ghana. The training meant to teach journalists on the role of the media in covering international crimes as well as the overview of the international criminal court
I caught up with Mr. Dahirou Sant- Anna, the International Advisor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to understand the work of the ICC, benefits of being a state member and issues of democracy, human rights and the importance of training journalists in International crime reporting
Nonhlanhla Ngwenya: Zimbabwe signed but hasn’t ratified its membership meaning it is not a member of the ICC, is being part of the ICC an important aspect of democracy in any country or not?
Dahirou Sant-Anna: I think, well obviously for the ICC we are trying to reach universality meaning to make sure that the Rome Statute expands to as many countries as possible, Zimbabwe being a signatory state, I hope that in the near future it will become a full state party meaning rectifying the Rome Statute. Obviously it is an individual voluntary sovereign choice for each state to ratify the Rome Statute. I think that whenever it happens it also shows that a particular state is committed to fight against impunities committed, to stand for what is humanly acceptable in terms of rights. It also joins the community of states that are willing to work together with the ICC so that it can investigate and prosecute crimes. I think that it is very important because we live in an era where the image of each state whether you are an African state or not is very important in the sense that when you are promoting and fighting for human rights, your communities and your people feel empowered towards anything that fights against impunity and to ensure that everyone is accountable
NN: Looking at issues that touch down to communities for example minority groups like the LGBTQ is the ICC doing anything about crimes committed against those communities?
DS-A: Well often when we talk about communities affected by the crimes of the ICC, we are talking about mass crimes, International crimes, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Obviously whenever ICC collects evidence we look at which group is targeted, is it sexual and gender-based, what is the nature of the crime, so we can get substantial evidence to support our case. Of course, there are issues that remain at the level of the state to deal with, that’s why we say the ICC is the court of last resort, meaning that primary responsibility falls on the state to make sure that whatever crime is committed on the territory is investigated and prosecuted. When we talk of mass atrocities, these happen in situations of conflict, situations of electoral violence or widespread and large scale abuses. In that case, the ICC may intervene if the state is unable or unwilling to intervene.
NN: It seems like the ICC focuses on crimes against women and children mostly, I didn’t see anything to do with the disabled in Communities?
DS-A: Well actually the ICC doesn’t specifically make a distinction between whether you live with a disability or not. Within the office of the Prosecutor, we have policies allowing the office to target or to pay attention to sexual gender-based crimes, which can be committed against disabled or non-disabled people or, women or children, the elderly and men as well, it’s not about a particular group. Therefore there is a sexist or sexual element in that when we talk about sexual and gender-based crimes. We also look into crimes that are committed against children, as you know for the past few years there has been the use of children in hostilities when they are under the age of fifteen, whereas those children should be protected and able to go to school. Most importantly you have to understand that the ICC looks into all sorts of criminality as long as there is evidence collected in support of the crimes committed and sexual and gender-based crimes are something common. Rape obviously, I can refer to the prosecution of Dominic Ongwen in Uganda where there is a big component of a sexual and gender-based crime, many women, and young girls were abducted and taken to the bush, raped and forcibly married, impregnated and were reduced to sexual slaves. So we had to focus also on that element but it doesn’t mean that when there are murders, killings or pillaging and other sorts of crimes we don’t, we do focus on them. We do have an objective way to address all criminality.
NN: What would be your advice to some of the countries that have a misconception when it comes to the ICC, like you only target African countries, so we are just going to sign and not ratify it, is it an advantage for every country to be part of the ICC?
DS-A: I think it is a big advantage for every country to be part of the ICC, as I said earlier on, what is important is to bear in mind the fact that you become a state party of the ICC doesn’t mean the ICC is targeting you. It is a decision that you make as a sovereign state when you joining, it’s almost like joining a club, thus a club has certain rules that apply to all members when you join, you accept voluntarily that those rules are applicable to you but it also means you are joining the club to make the club stronger to actually investigate those who commit crimes and sometimes what I tend to say is that crimes are committed everywhere in the world and many countries have rectified the ICC Rome Statute, it doesn’t mean over the 120 countries all have been prosecuted, we have been to less than 20 of them. This means about 100 of them are a party but nothing has happened. So no country should be afraid to join the ICC. Joining the ICC means you are joining the fight against impunity, you are joining the fight for accountability, you joining an institution that is there to bring justice to victims of atrocity crimes. Often victims have left aside, nobody cares about their suffering, ICC is there to bring justice to those communities, to those victims of International crimes.
NN: Lastly this has to do with journalists and ICC obviously and the recently ended training, do you think such training is of value to ICC or the journalism world?
DS-A: I think the training is useful for both the ICC and the journalists, it’s interesting for the ICC because we are dealing with International crimes, we are conducting proceedings that are very complex. We are investigating countries which are far away from the ICC and often when we are doing that we are far from the communities that are affected by the crimes we are investigating and prosecuting, therefore it is important for us to reach out to those communities, that’s when we need journalists who would be the bridge between us and the affected communities or the public at large. The journalists also get to understand our dealings, functioning, working methods, proceedings and the legal jargon we use and what it means, so that whenever journalists are reporting, they have a better understanding of the ICC and can report and provide accurate information to the communities and whenever necessary they can still rebate to the ICC and request for certain information. Journalists can eventually use the ICC as a primary source, to make sure that they get key information because the proceedings at the ICC are not the same those at the national level, they are more complex, they are elements which have the protection of witnesses, issues of interpretation are also involved. There’s the issue of access to victims which are in remote areas and the issue of authenticity of the evidence. Sometimes people tend to say this person is accused by the ICC when the person is not yet accused but still a suspect. The presumption of innocence is a key element, the issue of confidentiality, journalists cannot report on everything. This kind of training I believe is meant to provide journalists with necessary tools to do your work in a very responsible manner, following also your ethical rules but it also helps us as a court to make sure that we have a connection with you journalists so that whenever you are doing your job, you are able to do it properly and whenever you publish an article it will allow us to know the expectations of the affected communities and to see how we can best manage that.
NN: Okay, thank you very much!
DS-A: Thank you