The Value of the International Criminal Court

Over at the SSRC, Richard Dowden an Tim Allen, author of Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army debate the ICC. Dowden:

[T]here are three major problems for the Court in Uganda. First, consider the timing of the announcement of the LRA warrants. For at least ten of the war’s twenty appalling years, sporadic peace talks have been going on between the government, rebels and local leaders. Early last year, they began to get serious. With peace in southern Sudan where the LRA had its bases, a deal did seem possible. But the announcement that the LRA leaders were about to be arrested and sent to The Hague was hardly an incentive to the rebels to put down their weapons and make peace. The Court argued that it made its announcement when sufficient evidence had been gathered. Being judicial, not political, it could not – would not – take into account what was happening on the ground. President Yoweri Museveni, who in late 2003 had originally invited the Court to deal with the LRA, now asked it to suspend the citations, but it refused.


Essentially Richard Dowden’s position is that holding people to account for heinous actions is not how things are done in Africa. It is a deeply pessimistic point of view: Africans have learned to live with dreadful events, and have found a way of living with them, so they should be left to get on with it. There is a suggestion in the article that all Africans think much the same way, and are unlike other people in the world in that they don’t need or want conventional judicial mechanisms. We are told that “the ICC aims to hand out justice in Sudan as if it were Surrey.” At one level I have to agree with this. A very large number of Africans have not had much choice about it. But does that mean things have to stay that way?