01.12.2017 Feature Article

When Despots Are Afraid Of Their Own Shadows

When Despots Are Afraid Of Their Own Shadows
01.12.2017 LISTEN

Burundi announced earlier this month that it was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prior to Burundi's long-anticipated announcement, the only other country that had taken this step was The Gambia when Yahya Jammeh was in power.

The man who replaced him as president, Adama Barrow, wasted no time in restoring The Gambia's membership, however. Some other African countries also have voiced their displeasure with the ICC and have threatened to sever links with it. Uganda and South Africa are two such countries.

These countries complain that the ICC unfairly singles out African leaders for prosecution, and the African Union (AU), to no one's surprise, seems to agree. The African group warned recently that its members might abandon the ICC en masse.

With more African leaders either convicted or on trial or indicted by the ICC than leaders from any other part of the world, there is a growing perception on the continent that the international judicial body is biased toward Africans. But the ICC's perceived anti-African bias may be just that - a perception.

It is no secret that the largest collection of tyrannical rulers in the world is found in Africa. State-sponsored crimes against humanity and flagrant civil rights violations are rampant on the continent. Numerous African leaders, disdainful of constitutional democracy and determined to stay in power for ever at all costs, have blood on their hands - a lot of blood - which explains why the ICC constantly has them in its crosshairs.

Here are some of the of the most infamous African leaders and their atrocious deeds. In 2011, over a thousand people died in the Ivory Coast when the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede defeat to his rival, Alssane Ouarttara, in the country's presidential election. The same post-election nightmare repeated itself in Kenya two years later, in 2013, when thousands again lost their lives after the opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga cried foul when the poll results suspiciously awarded victory to the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta.

The ICC managed to get its hands on Gbagbo following his army's defeat by the forces of his rival. But the organization had no such luck in the case of the Kenyan leader, who was widely blamed for the bloodshed in Kenya. He was, however, indicted by the court only for the indictment to be suspended a few years later.

These horrific bouts of bloodletting, instigated by rulers who have no desire to relinquish power even after they have been rejected by the people, usually occur within the context of elections, but other instances of large-scale bloodshed do take place outside the realm of electoral politics as well.

For example, Charles Taylor, the former warlord who became president of Liberia, was convicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in connection with the atrocities his militia committed against civilians in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the early nineties. Goons taking orders from him gained a reputation for extreme cruelty as they hacked off the limbs of their victims, among other acts of wanton savagery, in a bloody conflict he initiated with the sole objective of seizing control of the lucrative diamond business in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Sudan's long-time dictator, Omar Bashir, has also been indicted by the ICC for crimes committed by his army and his Arab militia allies, the murderous Janjaweed, against the inhabitants Darfur.

Besides these leaders who have either been convicted or formally indicted by the ICC, many more in Africa remain potential candidates for prosecution by the international tribunal. Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi is one likely candidate. Since 2012 his security forces have been involved in a wave of brutal killings targeting people who oppose the unconstitutional extension of his term in office. Thousands have died as a result, and thousands more have fled the country, making them refugees in neighboring countries.

Another potential candidate for prosecution is South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, leader of the world's so-called newest nation. He has been waging a genocidal war against the tribe of his arch rival, Riek Machar, since 2013 when the two fell out in a vicious power struggle. The bloody ethnic conflict has killed thousands of people and driven nearly a million more into exile in forbidding refugee camps across the border in Uganda and other neighboring countries.

Other miscreants who should be hauled before the court in The Hague are the warlords of sectarian gangs in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been masterminding pogroms against each other's community since 2013 when rebels from the country's Muslim minority overthrew the Christian-dominated government.

But no country in Africa poses a more formidable challenge for the ICC than Somalia, where the jihadist mayhem has created an anarchist's paradise with neither a credible governmental authority nor particular individuals who can be identified and held accountable for the incredibly endless carnage. Some day soon, the criminals behind the bloodshed in this unfortunate land will also be apprehended and brought to justice.

The behavior of these dictators and warlords is responsible for much of the human suffering in Africa. Because of their inordinate greed and insatiable lust for political power, millions of innocent people have died and millions more are living in unimaginable misery in refugee camps across the continent, their lives shattered, perhaps beyond recovery. The ICC seeks to end such calamities by making life uncomfortable for the tyrants. No wonder they are unhappy and are accusing the ICC of bias toward Africans.

The ICC's record of impartiality is unimpeachable. Its long arm has hauled European offenders into prison in the past. When it was created in the early nineties in response to the medieval barbarism that characterized the Yugoslav civil war, the ICC prosecuted many individuals from Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-herzegovina ranging from military leaders to politicians to ordinary soldiers. Some were convicted, others acquitted.

But while the cessation of hostilities brought about a corresponding decline in human rights violations in Europe, the problem ramped up in Africa, prompting the ICC to focus on the continent more intensely than ever before.

The despots are complaining about the ICC, but the truth is that they are only doing so because they are afraid of their own shadows. The human rights records of dictators like Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia and their ilk are definitely not up to par, so naturally such men would want nothing to do with the ICC in hopes of avoiding the fate of Charles Taylor and Laurent Gbagbo. For these tyrants to blame anti-African bias to justify their hostility toward the ICC is pure hogwash.

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