A couple of items from ‘The Week’ highlighting two recent court cases demonstrate how power can distort international criminal justice –
In the first case, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has gone on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. He is the most high profile figure to be tried by this court since it was established in 2002. The charges relate to atrocities, including mass rapes, by Bemba’s personal militia, in the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002-03.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Israel, two Israeli soldiers, convicted at a military trial of using a nine-year old Palestinian as a human shield have avoided jail. The soldiers had forced the child at gunpoint to search bags for booby traps in a basement shelter towards the end of the Israelis’ 22 day assault on Gaza in January 2009. The men faced a maximium prison sentence of 3 years for ‘inappropriate conduct’ but were let off with suspended sentences and demoted.
In both cases we have countries using military force against another
country without UN sanction, both engaged in illegal wars/ occupations -but it is only the African president that is held to account by the Hague, while in the case of Israel there is no International trial of the president – the soldiers are tried in Israel itself and essentially let off.
This is clearly a very good example of how the amount of power a country has on the international stage, and maybe how close that country is to the US, influences the likelihood of the leader of that country being tried by the International Court of Justice – so I guess one could argue that the ICC is a place where leaders of poor countries get tried for war crimes, while the leaders of rich countries are allowed to pursue illegal wars with impunity.
In fairness, the ICC might catch up with Israel, and maybe even Britain and America (Iraq) in the next ten years, but I’d put money on the fact that we won’t be seeing Shimon Peres, George Bush, or Tony Bliare in the dock anytime soon!