An open letter to the President of the ICC, Jdg. Silvia Fernández Gurmendi
Dear Madam President,
I write this open letter to you as somebody who believes in justice; however, unlike the ICC, I am not claiming to be the voice of the unheard. Instead, I am one of many who speaks for themselves in demand of real justice. For fifteen years the institution you represent has aimed to promote universal justice and bring the perpetrators of the worst atrocities to account. So, why does the ICC push for exclusively western liberal values and no others? Why not African values in the quest for just solutions? Your mission to promote public awareness and understanding of the court is actively promoting liberal values at the expense of local forms of justice.
In Northern Uganda, the ICC’s outreach programs are supposed to contribute to people’s lives, yet Dominique Ongwen’s on-going trial has resulted in the people who suffered most from Ongwen’s crimes being pushed to the side to watch like football spectators! Load-shedding and a slow internet connection makes it nearly impossible for those who live in rural parts of Uganda to follow the case. This, in my book, is not justice.
The case as a whole has been very under-reported; it seems as if the media has lost all interest, while for the Ugandan government, their cooperation with the court is beneficial to the elite but not really to the victims who were affected by the war.
What about giving a chance to the local justice systems; the ones that the victims understand best; the justice systems that are not universal but give great opportunity to those who are most affected to take part in the process? We all agree that justice is crucial in any society, however, can that elusive moral maze, “justice”, be so simply cut and pasted from one society to another?
Madam President, in observing your recent trip to Uganda I couldn’t help but feel that its underlying purpose rested on power politics and how one can dominate another without the use of force. When you talk of human rights and promoting justice, you have a means of asserting power indirectly over developing countries. If we believe justice is universal, it becomes difficult to argue against; who wants to be seen as anti-justice?
Madam President, your office and the institution you represent pushes local solutions to the back of the queue in favour of ‘universal’ versions. It pushes its own liberal values instead of the values of societies it claims to represent. By blindly assuming that international justice is better than local justice, we fail to consider whether the ideas being applied are compatible with the society they are trying to help. While its true that liberal values have an international reach, which practically helps the ability to deliver, the priority should be ensuring that the justice which is being delivered is fit for purpose.
Having said that, it right to say liberal values do work in certain situations- after the Second World War, for example- but to assume that whenever atrocities have taken place that liberal values are the best solution, is simply to ignore reality. The reality is that there is a long lists of crimes committed in the name of liberalism and its values. For instance, the US committed crimes against humanity in its 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Funnily enough, the institution you represent has not yet brought any of those responsible to account. Instead, the perpetrators were mainly seen to be Iraqi despite widely held knowledge of America’s crimes in the likes of Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi’s were tortured and abused by American military guards. Until today there has not been any form international justice to address these crimes that took place in Iraq. Whenever the perpetrator is a powerful state- say the United States- the ICC is less quick to act.
If your aim is to obtain international peace and international justice, then justice should be applied equally among all states rather than according to specific values, military power or economic capacity. Just because a state is powerful, it should not mean it is above the law- that’s not very universal. Even so, the values of more powerful states may not provide the solution to smaller states in political transition. The point I make here is that the ICC should seek out values found in other parts of the world and use them to promote justice in those societies.
Why shouldn’t African and Asian cultures be involved in dealing with issues that concern human rights? Their participation could bring new solutions on how to approach issues facing societies in post-conflict regions- after all, these societies are the ones affected by the perpetrators who carry out atrocities and should decide how and what justice is fit for them.
International justice as a concept is right- the problem comes when its is being applied blindly and when its values are used to project power rather than justice. If the aim of ICC is to achieve peace and international justice it has to detach itself from power politics. And the best way to do so is to apply solutions and mechanisms seen fit for the society in question rather than imposing liberal values onto a society. We live in a world that has different cultures, ideas and norms depending on regions, tribes and communities, so to assume that concepts based on the liberal logic apply everywhere is simply to ignore the fact that societies are different. As humans we should embrace the difference within societies and use this to our advantage.
Richard Mubatazi's interests include Transitional justice, mediation and conflict resolution in Africa. He has a BA Politics and International Relations from the University of Westminster and an MA Conflict Security and Development, King's College London.