19 dec The ICC, a useless court?
This week, judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague have acquitted the Congolese rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo because the testimony against him was too ‘hazy’. The judges said that, although the atrocities suffered by the villagers in Bogoro (Eastern Congo)in February 2003 were real, the evidence against Mr. Ngudjolo was not sufficient. He has been acquitted of all charges, including murder, rape and use of child soldiers. He will go home a free man, leaving the relatives of the many victims in total disarray. Mr. Ngudjolo, a former nurse, was arrested in 2008 after survivors of the terror in Eastern Congo, that is still going on today, recognized him as the leader of the Front for National Integration, responsible for the murder of thousands of citizens. Once again the ICC has shown how little it can do to create cases against leaders of mass murder operations. In the past years, many suspects who appeared in the court in The Hague were eventually set free, leaving the impression that the court lacks investigative power and better instruments. Technical problems, bureaucracy and long pauzes between court sessions have added to the bad imnpression the public must receive. Suspects from African countries, former Yugoslavia and other former civil war areas heve more often than not been acquitted while all proof against them seemed convincing. This has meant severe blows to the credibility and respectability of the court, that has not even been recognized by big global players such as the United States, Russia and China. In Africa, most leaders consider the ICC to be biased against African leaders anyway and therefore they hesitate to cooperate with the ICC. Maybe they are right. The ICC is an expensive institution that deserves to be taken seriously only if it recieves more money, people and power. Human Rights Watch called for the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to strengthen its investigations of those responsible for grave crimes in Eastern Congo, including high-ranking officials in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda who supported and still support the armed rebel groups. It is not only the smaller players like Mr. Ngudjolo the ICC should be chasing, but the big bosses, a.k.a. Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, for instance, is one of the men we would like to see standing before the judges in The Hague. Only than will the ICC prove to be the disencouraging instrument it is supposed to be.
The only advantage of the Ngudjolo case may be that we speak about the Congo again: the world is turning its head away from the huge humanitarian disaster that is going on there. Thousands of people are being killed, tortured and raped every day in the fight for control of the abundant natural resources. But gold and diamonds seem to be stronger than compassion. If that is so, let’s not blame a court, but all of humanity for letting the Congo commit the unbearable crimes we only hear of now and then. Or can we really afford to say, business as usual?