The International Criminal Court and the Politics of Justice in Africa

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February 24, 2014

Dr. Alana Tiemessen, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago Department of Political Science, addressed students and staff on February 24th in the third of a series of lectures by young academics and practitioners in the field of international justice.

In her talk, "The International Criminal Court and the Politics of Justice in Africa," Dr. Tiemessen outlined the politicization of The International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Court’s tenuous relationship with Africa. The ICC in The Hague tries those most responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

While Dr. Tiemessen stated the International Criminal Court is an example of international moral progress she maintained the Court would never fully transcend the political sphere and operate solely based on law.

Dr. Tiemessen claimed that these “patterns of politicization” result primarily from the means by which conflicts are brought to the Court’s attention and the structure of the Court itself. All eight of the Court’s ongoing investigations and trials are focused on African conflicts.

First, the United Nations Security Council referrals are often based on external political interests. For this reason North Korea and Syria will never be referred to the ICC as a result of Russia’s veto power.

Second, state self-referrals to the Court, such as in Uganda, are often politically motivated. Ugandan President Museveni has threatened to evict the ICC from Uganda were it to indict any Ugandan politicians or military leaders.

However, Dr. Tiemessen presented the Kenya case as an example of a trial that has remained relatively free of politicization. President Kenyatta and Deputy Prime Minister Ruto are currently on trial despite being sitting heads of state. Additionally, individuals on both sides of the conflict have been investigated and summoned. While this impartiality has created practical obstacles to conducting a trial it has also contributed to the legitimacy of the Court as an impartial body.

Dr. Tiemessen concluded by recommending that the ICC pull away from UN Security Council influence and that the prosecutor be granted greater independence to initiate investigations.

This article was written by Amelia Katan ’15, a member of the Fall 2013/Spring 2014 Ethics Center Leadership Council.