Turtle Bay

What’s a war crimes prosecutor doing at Kagame’s presidential inauguration?

What’s a war crimes prosecutor doing at Kagame’s presidential inauguration?

The International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has sharply criticized nations, diplomats, and political leaders that have lent legitimacy to suspected war criminals like Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. In March, he derided international monitors who participated in a U.N.-backed vote that led to Bashir’s reelection. "It’s like monitoring a Hitler election," he said at the time.

But the Argentine prosecutor will send his deputy, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia, to Kigali to attend Monday’s inauguration of Rwanda leader Paul Kagame, whose army has been accused in a recently leaked U.N. report of committing massive war crimes and possibly genocide in eastern Congo in the 1990s.

Moreno-Ocampo authorized the visit in the hopes of using it to press African leaders to support the court’s efforts to hold Bashir and other alleged criminals accountable. "We will meet some African heads of state in Kigali and discuss how to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement to Turtle Bay. "There is no solution in Darfur without the involvement of African leaders."

But the move has drawn criticism from some of the court’s most passionate defenders, who say that Bensouda’s appearance sends the wrong signal to Congolese victims of alleged Rwandan crimes and to Darfuri civilians who will face dire conditions if Rwanda carries through on its threat to withdraw 3,500 U.N. peacekeepers from Darfur to protest the U.N. report.

"It’s a bad decision," Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, one of the court’s leading defenders, told Turtle Bay. "This is not about guilt or innocence, which only a court could decide. It’s about association and perception."

Bill Pace, a lawyer who oversees the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, an association of more than 2.500 pro-ICC NGOs, said "it’s fine" for Fatou to attend the inauguration if she uses her visit to press Rwanda — which is not a member of the court — to support the ICC.

Pace said that while he hoped perpetrators of war crimes in Congo would be held accountable, the ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes, like the alleged ones in Congo and Rwanda, committed before the court was established.

The ICC has been facing intense opposition from African leaders, who have complained that the tribunal has focused primarily on African crimes, carrying out investigations in Congo, Sudan, Uganda, and Central African Republic and now preparing a new probe into Kenyan violations.

In July, an African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda, decided that "African Union member states shall not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of the president of Sudan." It also rejected a request by Moreno-Ocampo to set up a liaison office with the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to help improve cooperation and understanding of the court’s mandate.

Moreno-Ocampo maintains that the allegations that he is singling out Africa are unfair, noting that most of his African investigations have been launched at the request of the governments where the crimes occurred. The Sudan probe, however, was authorized by the U.N. Security Council. He had hoped to use the Kagame inauguration, which will draw heads of state from throughout Africa, to restate his case for supporting the court.

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