The Multilateralist

Kofi Annan Defends the International Criminal Court

As its Kenya cases stumble forward, the International Criminal Court is under intense political pressure in Africa. Next week, the African Union will convene a special meeting to discuss the court and its alleged bias against African states (all eight formal court investigations have been on the continent). In this atmosphere of recrimination, former UN ...

As its Kenya cases stumble forward, the International Criminal Court is under intense political pressure in Africa. Next week, the African Union will convene a special meeting to discuss the court and its alleged bias against African states (all eight formal court investigations have been on the continent). In this atmosphere of recrimination, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan—who was present when the ICC was negotiated—has risen to defend the court:

Speaking at the third annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, Annan came to the defence of the ICC - which had come under increasing criticism from African countries for "unfairly targeting Africans".

"On a continent that has experienced deadly conflict, gross violations of human rights, even genocide, I am surprised to hear critics ask whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace," Annan told a packed University of the Western Cape main hall.

As its Kenya cases stumble forward, the International Criminal Court is under intense political pressure in Africa. Next week, the African Union will convene a special meeting to discuss the court and its alleged bias against African states (all eight formal court investigations have been on the continent). In this atmosphere of recrimination, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan—who was present when the ICC was negotiated—has risen to defend the court:

Speaking at the third annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, Annan came to the defence of the ICC – which had come under increasing criticism from African countries for "unfairly targeting Africans".

"On a continent that has experienced deadly conflict, gross violations of human rights, even genocide, I am surprised to hear critics ask whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace," Annan told a packed University of the Western Cape main hall.

Annan said justice and peace were interlinked, and one could not be achieved without the other.

"We must be ambitious enough to pursue both, and wise enough to recognise, respect and protect the independence of justice," he said.

But one aspect of Annan’s defense is suspect. He told his audience that the court’s all-Africa docket is mostly not of its own making:

"In four of the cases on Africa before the court, African leaders themselves made the referral to the ICC. In two others – Darfur and more recently Libya – it was the United Nations Security Council, and not the Court, which initiated proceedings," he said.

Annan is correct that most of the ICC investigations have come via either referral by the state itself or by the Security Council. But he speaks as if the court simply received cases forward by others. In both the Congo and Uganda referrals, the former prosecutor sought out and encouraged the referrals from those governments. More important, nothing compels the prosecutor to open a full investigation when a situation is referred to him or her by a government or by the Security Council. Deciding to spend the court’s scarce resources on those situations rather than others where the court might have jurisdiction–such as Afghanistan, Georgia or Colombia–is in fact a choice.

The ICC has been abused and maligned aplenty by certain African leaders. But pretending that the court has no agency isn’t the correct response.

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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