Thierry Cruvellier’s op-ed for the New York Times – “The ICC, Out of Africa” – made it to the front page of the print edition (no easy task on the day before the US election). The article details the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) struggle to gain legitimacy and to build trust, particularly amongst some Africa states who perceive the prosecution as having a bias towards prosecuting Africans – to date, the ICC has only charged African defendants. In a recent move, South Africa, Gambia and Burundi have expressed their intention to withdraw from the court, relying on the alleged bias as justification.
According to Cruvellier, the ICC Prosecutor’s new policy shift – namely, to include as priority crimes those violations that relate to the illegal exploitation of natural resources, the forced dispossession of land, or the destruction of the environment – is part of a strategy to move away from the more traditional cases involving war crimes in Africa. Cruvellier rightly recognises that land grabbing is “a major source of social and political violence in many parts of the world, and they usually affect the most vulnerable populations, like minority groups and the poor” and argues that the ICC’s new focus might help “to buttress the fragile claim that its activities can help prevent conflict.”
Referring to the case filed at the ICC by Global Diligence partner, Richard J Rogers, Cruvellier points out the other significant difference with these types of cases, namely, that they are victim led:
“What’s more, the request for the I.C.C. to look into land-grabbing in Cambodia was driven by victims’ groups, whereas the court’s investigations to date were the result of requests by states or the United Nations. Were the prosecutor’s office to take on more files brought by victims or civil society, the I.C.C. would appear to act on behalf of victims’ rights rather than as a compliant tool of opportunistic political interests.”
Cruvellier concludes that the ICC’s new direction would make the institution seem more independent — and then any defections by member states, “rather than appearing to expose the I.C.C.’s flaws, would only underline its newfound relevance.”