African Dictators: Can’t Run, Can’t Hide! By Alemayehu G Mariam

January 30th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is on the chase; and over the past few months, things have taken a slow turn for the worse for African dictators and human rights violators. They are finding out that they can’t run and they can’t hide.

Laurent “Cling-to-power-at-any-cost” Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire was snatched from his palatial hiding place in April 2011 after he defiantly refused to give up power to Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election certified by international observers in December 2010. In late November 2011, Gbagbo was quietly whisked away to the Hague from house arrest in Korhogo in the north of the country to face justice before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts) that were allegedly committed during the post-election period. The U.N. estimates well over three thousand people died between December 2010 and April 2011as a result of extrajudicial killings by supporters of Gbagbo and Ouattara. Gbagbo is the second former head of state to be tried by the ICC since it was set up in 2002.

Last week, a High Court judge in Kenya ordered Kenyan officials to arrest and deliver Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir to the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide if he ever set foot again in Kenya. The U.N. estimates well over 300,000 people have perished under Bashir’s regime. Bashir unsuccessfully claimed immunity from prosecution as a sitting head of state. Nearly all of the other unindicted African dictators have chimed in to severely criticize the ICC and demand suspension of Bashir’s arrest warrant. Five other suspects are also sought on ICC warrants in the Sudan including Ahmed Haroun, a lawyer and minister of humanitarian affairs, Ali Kushayb, a former senior Janjaweed (local militiamen allied with the Sudanese regime against Darfur rebels), Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a rebel leader and two others.
In another development in Kenya last week, Uhuru Kenyatta, finance minister and son of Kenya’s famed independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, resigned following an ICC ruling that he will face trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the communal post-election violence between supporters of presidential candidates Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in 2008. The U.N. estimates some 1,200 people died in weeks of unrest between December 2007 and February 2008 and 600,000 people were forcibly displaced. Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura, a close ally of president Mwai Kibaki, former Education Minister William Ruto and radio announcer Joshua arap Sang face similar charges.

The ICC had also issued arrest warrants for Moammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity. Last week, Libya’s Justice Minster announced that Libya, and not the ICC, will be trying Saif al-Islam. Al-Senoussi remains a fugitive from justice.

Last but not forgotten is former Liberian president Charles Taylor who went on trial on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is awaiting a verdict after a nearly three and half year trial.

The ICC presently has open investigations against individuals in various countries including Uganda, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur and Cote d’Ivoire. The rogue’s gallery of suspects sought in ICC issued arrest warrants for crimes against humanity and war crimes include five senior leaders of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda including the notorious Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti and three other top commanders. In the DR Congo various rebel and militia leaders and Congolese military officers and politicians including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Bosco Ntaganda, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and two others are targets of ICC investigation.

No ICC, No Justice?

The ICC, established in 2002, is an institution with a lot of legal and political limitations in its investigative and prosecutorial duties. For instance, it has authority over “crimes against humanity” only if the acts were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” The crimes must have been “extensively or rationally orchestrated” by the perpetrators. The ICC can investigate cases only where the accused is a national of a state party that has accepted ICC jurisdiction and the alleged crime took place on the territory of a state party, or if a “situation” is referred by the Security council. Most importantly, it can exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes.

The ICC has a very difficult job to do in investigating and chasing the world’s worst human rights violations across the planet. Despite its recent establishment, obstacles and limitations, it has a respectable record. As of September 2010, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor had received 8,874 “communications” about alleged human rights violations. After an initial review, it declined to proceed with 4,002 of them concluding that they are “manifestly outside the jurisdiction of the Court”. To date, the Court has opened investigations in seven African countries. Three investigations began following referral by state parties, the UN Security Council referred two more (Darfur and Libya) and two were begun proprio motu (“ICC prosecutor began on his own initiative”). To date, the ICC has charged 27 people and issued arrest warrants for 18 more. Five individuals are in various stages of trial and eight remain at large as fugitives. Two individuals died before their trials concluded and charges were dismissed against four.

The one unsettled question is what happens to those individuals who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in official or unofficial capacity but cannot be prosecuted because they are not part of the regime of the Rome Statute which established the ICC. For instance, Ethiopia has not ratified or accepted the Rome Statute and technically does not come under ICC jurisdiction. Does that mean the individuals who perpetrated crimes against humanity and war crimes in that country will never be held accountable under any international system of criminal justice?

The evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia is fully documented, substantial and overwhelming. An official Inquiry Commission report in 2006 documented the extrajudicial killing of at least 193 persons, wounding of 763 others and arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 30,000 persons in the post-2005 election period in that country. There are at least 237 individuals identified and implicated in these crimes. In December 2003, in Gambella, Ethiopia, 424 individuals died in extrajudicial killings by security forces. In the Ogaden, reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and 37 others were documented by Human Rights Watch in 2008 which charged:

Ethiopian military personnel who ordered or participated in attacks on civilians should be held responsible for war crimes. Senior military and civilian officials who knew or should have known of such crimes but took no action may be criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility. The widespread and apparently systematic nature of the attacks on villages throughout Somali Region is strong evidence that the killings,torture, rape, and forced displacement are also crimes against humanity for which the Ethiopian government bears ultimate responsibility.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch made a submission to the U.N. Committee Against Torture “regarding serious patterns of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in Ethiopia.”

Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, as well as alleged terrorist suspects. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture and ill-treatment by Ethiopian security forces in a range of settings. The frequency, ubiquity, and patterns of abuse by agents of the central and state governments demonstrate systematic mistreatment involving commanding officers, not random activity by rogue soldiers and police officers. In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, military commanders participated personally in torture.

Universal Jurisdiction

The are obvious limits to the globalization of criminal justice under the ICC regime. But does that mean human rights violators who are not subject to ICC jurisdiction get away with murder, torture, war crimes and genocide? Maybe not.

There is an encouraging trend globally that more and more national courts are willing to operate under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to prosecute gross human rights violators for atrocities committed outside their countries. Simply stated, if someone who committed crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide is found in another country where the crimes were not committed, that country makes it its obligation to bring the perpetrator to justice using its own courts. For instance, Article 5 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment provides that each State shall “take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him.”

Universal jurisdiction has been exercised in a number of high profile cases. A Spanish judge charged former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet in 1998 for crimes against humanity committed in Chile. After years of appeal and delays, Pinochet died in 2006 without facing justice. A Belgian court in 2001 convicted the killers of two Rwandan nuns for war crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A Belgian court in 2005 indicted the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, for crimes against humanity, torture, war crimes and other human rights violations committed during his presidency in Chad. Two weeks ago, a Senegalese court blocked the extradition of the Chadian dictator because Belgium failed to file the “original arrest warrant and other papers”. A German court has convicted a former leader of a paramilitary Serb group for acts of genocide committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997. Over the past several decades, more than 15 countries have exercised universal jurisdiction in investigations or prosecutions of persons suspected of crimes under international law including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK and the United States of America.

There are other non-criminal legal remedies as well. For instance, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) National Security Investigations Division conducts investigations to prevent foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers from entering the United States. It also identifies, prosecutes and deports such offenders who have entered the U.S. Over the past 8 years, ICE has arrested more than 200 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes and deported more than 400 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Currently, ICE is pursuing more than 1,900 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from nearly 95 different countries. HRVWCU receives anonymous tips and information from those who report suspected war criminals and human rights violators residing in the U.S. Individuals seeking to report suspected human rights violators may contact the HRV unit at HRV.ICE@DHS.GOV

Justice Delayed is Not Justice Denied, Just Delayed

Justice delayed is just delayed. The victims of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet might have thought justice delayed is justice denied. So may have thought the victims of Argentina’s Dirty War. The facts are very encouraging. Since December 2006, Chilean prosecutors and judges have convicted hundreds of former military personnel in the Pinochet regime accused of committing grave human rights violations. As of July 2008, 482 former military personnel and civilian collaborators were facing charges for a variety of offenses classified under crimes against humanity. Among these, 256 had been convicted, of whom 83 had had their convictions confirmed on appeal. In the Argentine Dirty War (the generals’ war against thousands of activists, militants, trade unionists, students, journalists and others), the mighty generals have been held to account. Many of the top military officers involved including Leopoldo Galtieri, general and President of Argentina, Jorge Rafael Videla, former senior Army commander and de facto President and other lesser known top officers were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment or long prison terms. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator for over three decades, his sons, interior minsiter and others are today facing justice in an Egyptian court. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Ali Saleh of Yemen will no doubt face justice in Syria, Yemen or elsewhere. Justice will also arrive like a slow, chugging and delayed train for those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia.

  1. astra
    | #1

    As could have been be expected(from his previous writings)Alemayehu did not say A WORD about his hero Mengistu Hailemariam. He mentioned so many names even beyond Africa. The COMBINED CRIMES OF ALL OF THEM DOES NOT AMOUNT TO A FRACTION OF THE CRIMES OF THE DERG HEADED BY THE FASCIST BUTCHER MENGISTU. What a shame Alemayehu!

  2. visitor
    | #2

    since the rebel group took power 20years we still counting god knows how many innocent ethiopaians lost their life on the hands of the current rullers the tigray liberation front.this mafia group is sucking the ethiopian people blood looting national treasure selling the land to the highiest bidders by force fully removing villagers from their land.only time will tell how many people they killed still killing by TIGRAY PEOPLE LIBERATION FRONT WHO IS STILL IN POWER IN ETHIOPIA.they make deals with whom they want in the name of the ethiopian people while they are still a liberation front.the ethiopian people well aware of the fact that the tigray people liberation front has no mandet from the ethiopian people to deal on behalf of them.the tigray liberation front is a splinter group who is gambling at the excepence of the ethiopian people,since it is still a splinter group the tigray people liberation front has no mandet to do any business on behalf of the ethiopian people.any deals made on behalf of the ethiopians by thoses splinter group the tigai people liberation front nationally as well as internationally has no merit.victory to the ethiopian people struggle to bring the criminals in addis ababa the tigrai liberation front to justice!!!!!!!

  3. Lack of good judgment
    | #3

    astra,
    Butcher and looter Meles is worse than the other butcher Mengestu in many ways than we can count. The greatest shame is on Meles and his TPLF thugs, not on the Law abiding, peace loving Ethiopian, Professor Alemayehu. Try to be real astra! the shame is on you.

  4. Sigobe wako
    | #4

    Do not blame TPLF.Blame those HODAMES.

  5. astra
    | #5

    lack of good judgement – what a fitting name!!!!!!!!!

  6. Girum
    | #6

    It is very amazing and tragic in that our brothers and sisters of African intellectuals are always akin in that they are only interested to stand for Democracy and human rights when only it comes to our own fellow leaders in Africa. When western governments, especially US and UK, have been doing such an amazing tragic wars of occupation and its aftermath misery for millions for the last 10 years following 9/11 pretext in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libiya, Somalia and now a big showdown for invasion on Syria and Iran, then they just keep quite and shut up their mouths. Libiya has been invaded with sch silly pretexts and now US is to place around 12 thousand troops in Libiya. The situation in Nigeria is also becoming very catastrophic. The entire 3rd world is being invaded and occupied by providing such silly pretexts of humanitarian mission and democracy. Where are things heading for? Is it not neo-colonialism? But our beloved far sighted intellectuals are focusing only on the small fish while the big monstrous shark is lurking in the background to swallow us. I see such a deep lack of wisdom and commonsense in our beloved intellectuals in that they are very stuck with human-rights and democracy beyond that is warranted. Dear all our intellectuals please evaluate our African and 3rd world leaders not only on issues of stereotypical democracy and human rights as is inculcated and hyped by the West, but also on the basis of their loyalty for their country based on their nationality feeling and faiths and also to the opposite based on their treacherous loyalty for Western-governments as stooges and client-regimes.
    When Bush and Blair killed, displaced and impoverished and infected with carcinogenic Depleted-Uranium all those Iraqi peoples for the last 10 years then you all keep quite and do not care about human rights. When Africa and all 3rd world countries are invaded by giving silly pretexts by Western Governments Imperialistic Capitalism then a cover of humanitarian mission and democracy is hyped and delivered. Really I am ashamed by our intellectuals who write same cliche things that denies or covers up the other side of the whole story. When Western government do any thing harming for Africa and other 3rd world countries then it is perverted and hyped as an issue of humanitarian mission and Democracy, but when our own fellow leaders are doing something ‘bad’ then they are hyped and demonized as dictators. Even so many of us have lost wisdom and common sense in that we do not ask such a vital question in that why the West is in the first place more human than we are to each other? Why we do not talk about Guantanamo? Who is these days using heinously DU(Depleted Uranium)?Who was using the first Atomic Bomb? If the entire motive and mission of the West and NATO in Libya has been humanitarian then why Ghadafi was killed in such a tragic dehumanizing way even without being privileged to any sort of justice? Is it not true that Canadian soldiers urinate on dead bodies in Afghanistan soldiers and demolish houses just for fun? When Western Governments dehumanize us in such ways systematically covertly and sometimes overtly we accept it but when our own fellow leaders oppress us then we label them as dictators. Even for us to demonize and label our leaders as dictators or whatever then it is only enough that the West calls them so also like that. And hence we are losing our own yardstick and norms to evaluate our own fellow countrymen leaders.
    Africa needs not dictators who oppress their own peoples and citizens. And indeed Africa also do not need corrupt puppet client-regimes who plunder the natural resources and also pave the way as stooges for the global capitalist system wealth plundering under the disguise of humanitarian mission and democracy. And in fact at this moment time in history where neo-colonialism is taking a new intricate different form and phase then we need genuine ,strong and nationalist leaders and intellectuals more than opportunist and treacherous leaders who simply hype and inculcate bogus democracy and human-rights.
    The entire showdown in Africa and the entire 3rd world is becoming more serious from the perspective of survival and natural resources grabbing rather than that of bogus democracy and humanitarian mission as is hyped and inculcated by the West for the sake of using it as a pretext for war and occupation in neo-colonialism. While we are being oppressed and plundered and impoverished in aggregate mass by the imperialistic nature of capitalism through foreign occupation and invasion, denying our sovereignty, I do not see the reason about which sort of individual democracy we are talking about. While we Africans are systematically and heinously misguided to focus entirely on individual bogus local democracy and local human rights, to the contrary we are paving the way for foreign aggregate mass invasion and occupation designed for natural resources and wealth plundering by Global Capitalism. And hence so many of our intellectuals are forgetting the savage foreign monstrous beast while entirely stuck and hype the local dictators. And hence it is better to seriously envisage the nature of our local dictators in that whether they are nationalist who defend their sovereignty and national interest or are they treacherous stooges for foreign powers. Not all dictators are the same. Some are dictators and oppressive in order to safeguard the national interest and sovereignty of their nation while to the contrary others are client-regime dictators and stooges who oppress their peoples in order to pave the way for foreign forces interest of natural resource and wealth plundering. It is such a very critical moment of time to seriously scrutinize the nature of Dictatorship. For Example the Syrians are now becoming wise and getting lessons from Libya and now they prefer to side with Bashir Alasad rather than those unknown forces like NTC of Libya, who are serving as stooge for foreign occupation. Our Emperor Menilik II was a sheer Dictator, who according to some OROMOS who made human rights violation, and according to the yardsticks of our current stereotypical politicians, but Ethiopians preferred to side with him when foreign invader Italy came to invade Ethiopia. Now our fellow intellectuals are losing this straight to the point commonsense and wisdom. When some nationalist fellow African leaders are fighting with same fellow new coming treacherous country men and women politicians who mobilize under the disguise of Democracy and human rights and who side with foreign forces as stooges, then it has become the usual modus operandi for our intellectuals, together with the West, to blindly demonize the incumbent nationalist leaders as evils and dictators. The incumbent Bagbo was by far more nationalist with such a strong integrity than the new coming Quatara who is designed to serve as stooge for French as client-regime and puppet and that is why the French interfered and helped in toppling Bagbo under the disguise of Bogus Election.
    Is it this sort of Bogus Democracy that our intellectuals aspire for Ethiopia and Africa? The amazing unraveled puzzle behind African and other 3rd world leaders and their relationship with the West is not with respect to whether they are dictators or Democrats. The amazing unraveled puzzle rather lies in that whether they are independent sovereign nation leaders who do not bow for the interest of for foreign powers, whether they can serve as stooges and puppet client-regimes for the global capitalist system.
    If they are independent sovereign nation leaders then they are demonized and labeled as Dictators. If they are serving as stooges and puppet client-regimes for the global capitalist system then at least, at least they are covered-up and are not demonized as dictators or terrorist supporters. And hence the governing rule is the interest of the West. For example look in Saudi Arabia where women are not even allowed to drive a car and look what the image of Saudi Arabia is in front of the Western governments.
    And hence it is high moment of time in history our fellow intellectual writers have proper wisdom and commonsense regarding the current global order and its associated events in 3rd world countries.
    Other wise there will come time where they can obscure no more of the current reality and eventually they may lose trust on the side of well informed readers. Till when our writers will continue to talk and hype about the small fishes while they are trying to hide and cover up the biggest fishes, the sharks?

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