International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The ICC: An Obstruction to Peace?

Last week, the NYTimes featured an op-ed article written by Thabo Mbeki (former President of South Africa) and Columbia University professor, Mahmood Mamdani, criticizing the international community’s failure to prioritize political reform over criminalizing political violence. Mbeki and Mamdani also criticize debates surrounding growing advocacy for African countries to withdraw from the ICC, stating that focusing on the intentions of African leaders deflects attention that should be aimed at assessing the value of the ICC in the process of ending civil war and political violence in Africa. The main argument against the court’s relevance to conflict-stricken Africa is that by seeking to incriminate individuals as perpetrators and classify others as victims, the ICC poses a serious risk of continuing conflict issues in civil wars. Referencing CODESA and the ending of the apartheid in South Africa, Mbeki and Mamdani emphasize the importance of incorporating past-offenders into the process of political reformation, and point out how incriminating political offenders undermines this necessity by denying them access to the newly established political order. They even reference the United States post-civil war era, during which President Johnson sought Reconstruction for the South and guaranteed amnesty for those who rebelled against the Union. While it is an interesting comparison, I do not think it is without problems. Namely, the United States endured a 100 year legacy of terrible race relations in the South, lack of protection of rights of newly-freed slaves, and violence against African-Americans until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. Even today, issues of racism are highly contested and relevant to many americans. To be fair, I do not think that Mbeki or Mamdani believe the court is totally irrelevant to Africa. After all, they suggest “there is a time and place for courts… but it is not in the midst of conflict or a nonfunctioning political system”. But then, when is the appropriate time and place for courts? More importantly, how has the ICC defined its involvement in African civil conflicts since its formation in 2002, and how has that helped to further (or undermine) its primary goal of justice in relation to peace?



2 responses to “The ICC: An Obstruction to Peace?

  1. bsteve February 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    One of the problems with Thabo Mbeki and Mahmood Mamdani’s article is that they appear to separate notions of justice from political reform. Conflict and violence tend to persist in states or areas with weak institutions and civil societies, or where individuals are not or cannot be held accountable for their actions. Judicial independence and strength tend to be important factors in political reform, because it enhances a state’s ability to uphold laws outside the whimsy of ever-changing political interests. Although the difference between victims and perpetrators is not always clear cut, as they rightfully note, a failure to prosecute the most horrendous perpetrators provides those perpetrators with a veneer of legitimacy. It demonstrates that all are not equal before the law, and that such a thing as victor’s justice does exist. If perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity are able to act without impunity, strong judicial institutions and civil societies cannot exist alongside them.

  2. jhgmitch February 11, 2014 at 3:03 am

    Nice post.

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