The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established under a multilateral treaty called the “ Rome Statute” which was adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on1 July 2002. It is based in the Hague, Holland, and has 124 members.
Unfortunately, the ICC does not enjoy much support in enlightened circles in Africa. This is because an overwhelming number of the people it has sought to try for “crimes against” humanity” and/or “genocide”, have tended to be Africans. Yet some of the worst crimes against humanity have been committed by non-African political leaders, especially George W Bush of the USA and Tony Blair of the UK (who used their powerful air forces and ground troops to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq because the two leaders believed – falsely – that Saddam Hussein's government possessed “weapons of mass destruction”).
While these two walk free (in fact, because it knows its own sins only too well, the US voted AGAINST the very establishment of the ICC!) the ICC's Prosecutors have, so far, opened investigations into ten situations: the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Uganda; Central African Republic; Darfur, Sudan; Kenya; Libya; Côte d'Ivoire; Mali; and Georgia. As can be seen, nine of the ten countries on which ICC Prosecutors have fully engaged themselves, are in Africa. The trial processes are at various stages and in the case of Kenya, the charges – against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Vice-President – have collapsed altogether. The perception of racial discrimination that the ICC has attracted to itself has in fact led to some African countries advocating the disengagement of the continent from the ICC treaty.
Yet the idea for an ICC had been floated at the UN for quite some time – with African support – before it was eventually actualised. Even as work was proceeding on the drafting of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, two temporary bodies with similar objectives were set up by the United Nations Security Council – to deal specifically with the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (the “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda”) and the atrocities that occurred in the former Yugoslavia during the sanguine civil war there, following the collapse of communism and the subsequent atrocity-marked dismemberment of the country (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia“ created in 1993). There has also been, outside the direct ambit of the ICC, a “Special Court on Sierra Leone”, which jailed the former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, for his part in the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its terrible civil war of the 1990s.
Well, the ICC has now taken a step that could redeem it from its past flawed image and endear it to progressive people not only in Africa but in all developing countries. It announced on 15 September 2016 that henceforth, it will be investigating, with a view to prosecuting, “crimes assessed in the light of... the increased vulnerability of victims, the terror subsequently instilled, or the social, economic and environmental damage inflicted on the affected communities.”
With this in view, the ICC Prosecutor's Office will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or “that result in the destruction of the
environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, or the illegal
dispossession of land.”
The new ICC position has been widely interpreted as a “change of focus” which will
enable the Court to expand its remit and “prosecute governments and individuals for environmental crimes such as land-grabs”. (A case had already been lodged with the ICC on behalf of 10 Cambodians alleging mass human rights violations by the Cambodian authorities, related to land-grabbing.)
The London Guardian reported that “The UN-backed court..., has mostly ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002. It has been criticised for its reluctance to investigate major environmental and cultural crimes, which often happen in peacetime. [But] in a change of focus, the ICC said it would now also prioritise crimes that result in the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land. It also included an explicit reference to land-grabbing.”
The Guardian added that the ICC, “which is funded by governments and is regarded as the court of last resort [in the world], , said it would also now take many crimes that had been traditionally “under-prosecuted” into consideration. So while the Court is not, (as the paper points out) “formally extending its jurisdiction”, it will henceforth “assess existing offences, such as crimes against humanity, in a broader context.”
The courageous anti-corruption campaign group, Global Witness, has commented that land-grabbing had led to many forced evictions, the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, malnutrition and environmental destruction.
“Land-grabbing is no less harmful than war, in terms of negative impacts on civilians”, said Alice Harrison, an adviser at Global Witness. “Today’s announcement should send a warning shot to company executives and investors that the environment is no longer their playground.”
The ICC announcement should sound like music in the ears of the Ghana social activists known as OccupyGhana. They have announced plans to take legal action against the Government of Ghana over its inability and/or unwillingness to eliminate the galamsey menace in Ghana that has already destroyed many of our biggest water-bodies, such as the Birem, Ankobra, Prah, Offin, Densu and many smaller rivers like Supong (in my birth-place, Asiakwa in the Eastern region, which used to flood and frighten us when we were children but which has now become a trickle of water covered in green algae.)
The Government of Ghana initially showed at outrage at the destruction wrought by galamsey and in a praise-worthy effort, set up a “Task Force” to evict the Chinese master-minds behind the galamsey operations and their Ghanaian collaborators. But the work of the “Task Force” was fatally undermined when the President himself, Mr John Mahama, did an incomprehensible U-turn and publicly criticised the “Task Force” for what he called “the brutal manner” I which the “Task Force” was going about the work of trying to stop galamsey! Mr Mahama claimed – in a statement that would have give great comfort to the criminals killing our water bodies – that galamsey operators were just trying to “earn a living”.
So the “Task Force” retracted its claws; our water bodies continue to be destroyed; and some scientists are forecasting that many areas in Ghana “will run out of drinking water in the next five years” at most. On my visit to Ghana in June 2016, it was intimated to me that the Institute of Aquatic Biology of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has carried out studies that clearly establish the perilous nature of our potable water situation. OccupyGhana should tap into the scientific community for evidence to use to prosecute the Government of Ghana and its somnolent agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Resources Commission and the Land Commission.
The University of Cape Coast also has faculty members who, to my knowledge, are well apprised of the facts regarding the destruction of our water-bodies. And one lecturer in the History Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, has devoted months to studying the modus operandi of the galamsey operators, and can furnish OccupyGhana with an enormous amount of empirical data, if asked.
OccupyGhana can also find a lot of material in Hansard. On one singe day in Parliament, (26 February 2016) an amazing amount of information emerged on the water situation in Ghana, including a detailed statement by the Minister in charge Water Resources. See: http://www.parliament.gh/publications/30/1294
On that day, there were exchanges between one MP, Mr Alexander K. Afenyo-Markin (NPP –– Effutu],and other MPs that were extremely interesting. Mr Afenyo-Markin told the House that the Minister had called on all Members of Parliament to help “ensure that pragmatic steps are taken in stopping environmental degradation”. The Minister had “cited illegal mining as one example.” But this call fell short of explicitly telling the people of Ghana, the new policy direction aimed at ending galamsey. “illegal mining”. If after all the efforts made to procure loans to improve on water supply networks, “we still allow people from this country and foreigners to pollute our water bodies in search of gold, would there be any water at all to be supplied?
In his consistency, Effutu, he had had an interaction with the District Manager of Ghana Water Company Limited, and the Manager's position was that there was no water coming from upstream
from upstream into the River Ayensu. As a result, they were unable to even get the minimum two metres to enable them pump!
He went on: “We are aware that River Oti is polluted, Densu is polluted, Pra is polluted and Offin is polluted. It is not a one- day affair. Mr Speaker, even when His Excellency the President visited Dunkwa-on-Offin on 28th of February, 2014, he ... made an observation [that]
'It is the responsibility of the Government to protect our people, our land and our resources but
Government cannot do it alone.” ...
“I agree with Mr President. The President [went further [and said]:
“All of us must be seriously involved so that we can win this fight against galamsey”. Mr Speaker, on the same day, the President is quoted as having said that he noted that the River Offin, which used to provide fish and drinking water ,could no longer provide these benefits to the people. He further warned that if galamsey was allowed to continue, the effect of it, which is the release of toxic chemicals, could be [to poison] the land and water-bodies and water tables; and even boreholes would get infected by toxic materials in the areas concerned. “So, Mr Speaker, clearly, the issues are known – ... even if the Hon Minister is able to drill thousands of boreholes, and [the boreholes] got infected, the people would not get clean water.
Mr Afenyo-Marki asked: “So, what are we doing to
end galamsey? Mr Speaker, when I started talking about galamsey, some good friends said that I am lucky I do not come from a mining community. Another friend told me that he would not dare talk about galamsey because he may lose votes. But for how long can we overlook the effect of galamsey on our water-bodies and in our water-bodies? Mr Speaker, I expected the Hon Minister to come out with a very bold step. With the greatest respect, I am disappointed and it is not personal to him. But ... we [must] come out with a bold decision as a country, to tell the galamsey operators that enough is enough;! The time is now! Let us save Ghana.
“This is because if we expand, take loans and cannot supply because somebody is mining in that same water-body,or because somebody is using that source of water and because of that,a farmer cannot use that water to farm, then there would be food security challenges. Mr Speaker, at least, I know a beautiful article has been written by a journalist by name Asumin Gyamfi on August 13, 2015. This journalist has spelt out the effects of galamsey and the threats of galamsey on our livelihood as a people in this country. Mr Speaker, are we saying that the drought[we have ee experiencing] is so natural? Are we saying that the degradation of our environment is natural? And are we saying that the human activities cannot be controlled? I disagree on the score that human activities cannot be controlled?
“ Human activities can be controlled. We have our security agencies; political leaderships and state institutions who have the mandate. What are they doing? Mr Speaker, we cannot leave it and pretend that it is not a problem. This is because throughout the over 35 minutes Statement made by the Hon Minister, he did not deal comprehensively with the issue of galamsey; of course, I know that it is not the core mandate of his Ministry. It is a collaborative effort but, at least ––
Mr First Deputy Speaker [interrupting]: I am glad you recognise that. It is collaborative and we are currently dealing with some –– I do not know if they have completed it from the Ministry. Not the Water Resources, Works and Housing but the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources trying to find solutions to some of these problems.
Mr Afenyo-Markin: Mr Speaker, the reason I am drumming this point in is because it is an interlocked matter, this issue of galamsey and the efforts that are to be made by the Ministry in supplying water and efforts by the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, are such that if the two do not work together –– That is why I submitted that I was expecting a Statement from the Hon Minister to the effect that they have acknowledged and recognised that it is a major challenge and that efforts were being made ––
Mr Deputy Speaker: Hon Member, we have very limited time. Could you furnish us with the article you referred to for the benefit of the Ministry?
Mr Afenyo-Markin: Mr Speaker, I would graciously hand [it] over. Everything is here.
Mr First Deputy Speaker: Very well. That will help them.
Mr Afenyo-Markin: Mr Speaker, we are equally aware and this is very important that people are selling their cocoa farms. These are all captured in this article. People are felling off trees for the
purposes of galamsey. The effect of the use of the cocoa farms for galamsey is that we are even unable to produce the expected tonnage. It is not only affecting water. So Mr Speaker, I am urging the Hon Minister and for that matter, the Government, to do everything humanly possible to save our water-bodies so that all the loans that they have procured would not become a debt that they would not be able to pay, and that there would not be any health hazard which would affect the people of Ghana.
[For] ... with all the effects of galamsey on our water-bodies, I do not see how as a country we can produce potable water in five years. I do not see how in five years, we can produce enough water even to support agriculture.” Mr Speaker, on that note, I rest my case and as you directed, I take this
opportunity to accordingly tender ... the article by Mr Asumin Gyamfi [August 13, 2015]
and [another] article, “Galamsey –– The good, the bad and the ugly”... published by Ghana Business (16th February, 2014).”
So, over to you, OccupyGhana! May your efforts succeed. Generations of Ghanaians yet unborn will have you to thank, if you stop this inexorable march by Ghana towards national, 'self-inflicted-genocide', in its tracks.