Strengthen the International Criminal Court

By Shay Cullen
January 15, 2009

The murder and senseless killing of innocent civilians has to stop. The International Criminal Court has to be strengthened to bring those accused of war crimes to justice.

It is the impunity of government leaders that make them so aggressive that causes that atrocities to be committed. Gaza is a living hell, civilians are wounded, killed, and punished - as well as the resistance fighters or terrorists as branded by Israel.

Now with as many as 1000 killed, most of them women and children, and 3500 wounded as I write this, the death toll continues to rise. Hamas has much to answer for by provoking the attacks and Israel for invading and bombing.

Dr Mad Gilbert, interviewed on BBC (and also reported by Ekklesia and Independent Catholic News), has never seen worse despite his work in war zones for many years. The unbalanced and excessive use of violence by the greatest military power in the Middle East is unjustified. They have to do more to settle the underlying injustices behind the Palestine problem. The government- supported spread of settlements in the West Bank unchecked by Israel puts them in the wrong.

What is needed is social and political justice through a peace settlement to right this grave historical wrong against the Palestine people. Violence from either side is not the answer.

The Catholic charity “Caritas” reported last December a terrible massacre of villagers who sought refuge at a Catholic Church the day after Christmas in the Eastern Congo. Scores have been hacked to death and body parts have been scattered in these brutal attacks allegedly by a ferocious rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony. They mutilate their civilian prisoners and thousands of children have been forced to be sex slaves and fighting soldiers.

Kony and other rebel leaders have been indicted by the UN mandated International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and are now trying to negotiate that the indictments be lifted.

Such deals must never be done; it would be betrayal of all those innocent children and women that have been raped and murdered. Many will find it inconceivable that human beings can inflict such terrible savagery on innocent people.

The ICC is our only hope for justice for such criminals guilty of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The Mai-Mai ethnic militias are equally bad and attack villages, they rape, plunder and murder men women and children. The testimonies of the survivors have been taken and recorded by brave human rights workers, some of them survivors of massacres themselves like Leah Chishugi who lived through the Rwandan massacre 14 years ago and has made a remarkable documentary that is disturbing but essential to bring these killers to trial some day.

Then there is Ahmed Mohammed Harum, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court as the alleged master planner and organizer of the militia attacks against civilians that killed an estimated 200,000 and drove up to 3 million people into refugee camps fleeing for their lives. He is charged by the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for war crimes committed when he was interior minister. He is presently Sudan's Minister of State for humanitarian affairs no less.

He says he is innocent and will never surrender to the tribunal. The killings and atrocities were so widespread and intense, the UN Security Council called for Sudan¹s President Omar Al-Bashir to cooperate. He has refused and now Luis Moreno-Ocampo has requested the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for him. The warrants for Harum and a Militia leader Ali Kushayb were issued in April 2007.

The ICC was established in 2002 by the United Nations to extend justice to nations and where the leaders have total power and impunity from prosecution in their own countries. The crimes it can investigate and try are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Human rights groups are advocating that the definition of “crimes against humanity” be expanded to cover crimes like wholesale trafficking of women and children into sex slavery. This could put politicians and law enforcement officials into the spotlight and hold them accountable.

“Crimes Against Humanity” as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum "are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings.

They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority......”

They are soon to link up with Transparency International to bring charges against corrupt Philippine officials that have stashed plunder abroad and bought property in other countries. The people of the countries hosting the stolen wealth ought to push for investigations and support such trials. France is showing the way.


(c) Shay Cullen is a Catholic priest, and director of the PREDA Foundation in the Philippines.

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