Last month, Bosco Ntaganda, a notorious rebel commander from Rwanda known as “The Terminator,” unexpectedly turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy in Kigali. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had indicted Ntaganda in 2006 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and the use of child soldiers. He was immediately transferred to the ICC in the Netherlands to face trial.
This International Women’s Day, taking stock of the progress and challenges facing women may be especially important in the area of international criminal justice. Women and young girls continue to be targeted at alarmingly high numbers because of their sex. Yet recently, hope has arisen with the unanimous election of the first female chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Over a decade ago, in commemoration of the establishment of the world’s first permanent international criminal institution, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke of “a gift of hope to future generations, and a giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law.”
On March 14, 2012, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the first verdict since it began operations 10 years ago in the case of Thomas Lubanga, a former militia leader from the region of Ituri in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Lubanga, whose forces had sought regional autonomy for Ituri, was convicted of conscripting and enlisting child soldiers and using them in hostilities.
Six months ago, a member of the Nigerian radicalIslamist group Boko Haram drove a car laden with high explosives into theUnited Nations compound in Abuja and detonated it. The blast killed 23 peopleand injured more than 80. It was the first, and so far only, time the group hadattacked such an international target. But it has hardly been the only target.Since 2009, the group has killed at least 1,000 people. Almost every day sees anew attack or shootout in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram has targeted churchesand police stations with particular ferocity. In January, militants killedscores of people in coordinated attacks in Kano, the largest city in the north.
Since the annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly is fast approaching – when heads of state and top politicians from member countries deliver speeches on global problems – it makes sense to tackle the cliché that the assembly is an “ineffectual talk shop.” Indeed, the annual debate is considered a place where government officials hold “shop-window speeches” to protect their reputations and the powerless UN body engages in endless debates, producing resolutions that are not legally binding but mere political recommendations and moral rebukes. This criticism is factually wrong and unfair.
A new and striking reminder of the importance of the International Criminal Court for women and their special support for it has emerged in the last few months. Fatou Bensouda, a lawyer from Gambia, has become a leading candidate to be elected the court’s prosecutor in December, when Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s term ends. The court’s Assembly of States Parties elects its prosecutors and judges.
The ICC announced today that the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has opened a formal investigation into the situation in Libya. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970 on Saturday, Feb. 26, which referred the situation to the prosecutor, thereby granting the court jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Libya since Feb. 15. The resolution did not, and could not, require the ICC to act. Since the Security Council referred the situation, under the court’s Rome Statute, the prosecutor did not need the permission of the Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation. However, the prosecutor will not necessarily be able to proceed quickly, given the difficulty of doing investigations in Libya and the challenges of an ongoing conflict there. More information is available at http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/Go?id=3eee2e2a-2618-4d66-8ecb-c95beccc300c&lan=en-GB.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970 to address the ongoing crisis in Libya and to refer the situation there to the ICC prosecutor. Since Libya is not a state party to the Rome Statute, the referral provides the basis for ICC jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed in Libya since Feb. 15. It invites, but cannot require, the prosecutor to open an investigation into crimes within the court’s jurisdiction. This resolution may mark the beginning of a new era in the work of the court and in its relationship with the US. It is quite possible that there will be further referrals, supported by the US, of the cases of fallen leaders in other countries in the Middle East.