The crimes against humanity trial of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and his former Youth Minister Charles Blé Goudé at the International Criminal Court again dominated transitional justice news this week. Both men rejected the charges against them. Blé Goudé presented himself as a man of peace like Martin Luther King. Several incidents occurred during the hearings, with the names of four protected witnesses being revealed by mistake. This is embarrassing for a Court whose credibility is already fragile.
The hearings relaunched a recurrent debate on the fact that the ICC is only charging and trying Africans. It is true that since its creation in 2002, the Court has opened 9 investigations, of which eight against Africans and only just recently Russia. But this criticism is also hypocritical on the part of numerous African “leaders for life” who fear for their immunity and impunity.
“The highlight of the Summit, for Kenya at least, was a demand for immunity for African leaders who brutalise their own people,” said an editorial in The Daily Nation.
Current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara showed similar ambiguity as he vowed not to send any more of his citizens to the ICC, where he sent his predecessor.
Côte d’Ivoire will henceforth try its own people, said Ouattara, although there have been no real procedures against people from his camp who also committed abuses during electoral violence in 2010-2011.
As for an African Court dependent on the AU, it would not have either the means or independence of the ICC.
As Hamidou Anne writes in Le Monde: “The argument that the ICC is racist is a very lucrative marketing point in Africa. But is it on a level with the human lives that are being toyed with each day on the African continent?”
These accusations against the ICC are clearly meant mostly to hide the absence of real rule of law in almost all the countries of Africa.
Thus the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has started its first genocide trial in the case of Bantus and Pygmies accused of inter-communal violence. These massacres, which left dozens dead, were largely ignored by the media.
But the trial in Lubumbashi has got bogged down. “The Lubumbashi trial started in August. Shortly afterwards one of the 11 Pygmy suspects came to a hearing too thin and weak to stand, then was hospitalized and died. The case was constantly postponed, with judges absent and witnesses failing to turn up. The latest example is a hearing scheduled for January 11, now postponed until February 22,” writes Habibou Bangré, correspondent for Justiceinfo.net in the DRC.
Also in the DRC, former militiaman Germain Katanga, just returned to his country after purging a sentence pronounced by the ICC, is still behind bars and facing a new trial, leading his lawyers to say that this is a political trial.
Even in Tunisia, pioneer of the Arab Spring, transition is difficult, as demonstrated by arbitrary use of a repressive law dating from the old regime against young cannabis users. The law is strongly criticized by civil society and NGOs.