Tag Archives: ICC

Adding Nuance to the Peace vs. Justice Debate

29 Apr

The peace versus justice debate is unavoidable when it comes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The conversation goes something like: Team Peace argues that the immediate cessation of violent conflict has to take precedence over everything else, while Team Justice argues that ending impunity for human rights violations is crucial for deterrence against human rights violations in the future.  While this summary totally simplifies a complicated and multipolar conversation, these two camps shape the basic nature of the debate.  Though both have solid points, a messy, subjective truth lies somewhere in the middle and the effects of justice are heavily dependent on the specific situation.

While the division between peace and justice is not rock-solid, there are indeed real problems with pursuing justice over peace (a theme I’ve written about before).  A perfect example is Sudan.  The ICC’s arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir increases his need to stay in a position of power (though he says he will step down in 2015 this is probably more of a result of internal NCP politics and he certainly has no intention of handing himself over to the ICC), and has decreased his ability to participate in negotiations.  This fact decreases the possible avenues of engagement for the international community (to varying degrees depending on the actor) to bargain with Bashir, ultimately hampering the opportunities for an international tempering influence, which his is especially unfortunate given Bashir’s current position of weakness.

Another example of unintended ICC consequences is in Kenya, where ICC-charged duo Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were essentially brought together as a political unit because of their respective warrants that date back to the election violence in 2007-2008.  Ruto and Kenyatta were able to use their confrontation with the ICC as a symbol of their resistance against foreign influence, consequently gaining them votes.  Their ticket eventually won the Kenyan elections (though there seems to also be evidence that the ICC helped convince Kenyatta and Ruto to call for calm before and after the election), and Kenyatta is now the second head of state to have been summoned by the ICC.  Unlike Bashir however, Kenyatta has cooperated with The Hague thus far.

So while there are real downsides to justice over peace, there are also plenty of benefits from a justice-centered approach.  As Erik Voeten points out in his Monkey Cage post, the ICC is very effective in deterring human rights abuses in countries where “mid-level” human rights abuses take place.  Also, the ICC is quite good at influencing mid-level individuals.  While Bashir, as Sudan’s leader, is out of the ICC’s reach, mid-level individuals in security forces and rebel groups worldwide are much more expendable, and they know that if a higher-up decides they’re a liability because of the atrocities they’ve committed, they’ll be on the next plane to The Hague.  The threat of ICC prosecution, for example, had a positive effect in Colombia, and the institution is quite effective at deterring torture.

Unfortunately though, the existence of the ICC does little to deter the most egregious human rights violations.  Individuals like Assad, Bashir, and Gaddafi have never been cowed by threats of eventual justice.  Keeping power outweighs any potential risks.  Conversely though, the existence of the ICC does not encourage human rights violations as James Fearson argued.  While it is supposed to, the ICC does not really close off all escape routes (they’ve never been in short supply anyway) for human rights violators, but these escape routes, in the end, have little effect on the level of human rights violations committed.  It is not as if Assad is being encouraged to kill as many people as possible before escaping to the ICC; leaders like Assad and Gaddafi never had any intention of pulling the escape cord when it looked like they have a credible chance of losing.  While the ICC can do little to prevent leaders bent on maintaining power through any means necessary from doing so, it can at least provide a just conclusion to some of these cases (Bosco Ntaganda is a good example), an outcome which shouldn’t be trivialized.

Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive phenomena, and while one can sometimes endanger the other, the specific context of each situation must always be taken into account before making a policy recommendation.  Ultimately, this is a debate that the ICC will have to enter to an increasing degree in coming years.  While it has made some progress, it must to do more to address the problems that come with an inflexible, justice-centered approach.  Luckily, it does have the tools to do that.  Article 53 of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC, allows for the Chief Prosecutor to offer amnesty to a perpetrator in the interests of the victims.  This precedent should not be applied in every situation, but does potentially allow the ICC to take a more critical approach to its activities.  The ICC has certainly been a milestone achievement in the fight to end international impunity for large-scale human rights violations, but it is not without its problems.

‘Til the Revolution Comes

5 Nov

*This is the first post of a two part series in reaction to my participation in the Women and Genocide in the 21st Century Conference organized by the Darfur Women Action Group.  This one will focus on realism in advocacy, and the second will focus on the dehumanization of perpetrators of mass atrocities.

The conference last weekend was full of many insightful perspectives and personal stories, but there was one assertion, repeated a few times, that really irked me.  The charge was that Omar al-Bashir is the root of all the problems in Sudan, and that until he is removed by the international community, Sudan will not improve.  During these moments, my mind wandered back to my dad telling me as sixteen-year-old about the dangers of manichean theories, or as he called them, “‘Til the revolution comes” arguments.  These lines of thoughts are not productive, as they downplay the agency of everyone involved and glaze over existing political scenarios.

Firstly, this  approach is simply not realistic.  The ICC has no mechanism to forcibly arrest Bashir, and rather relies on the cooperation of signatories to provide enforcement.  Even if countries refuse to arrest Bashir, the ICC indictment puts long-term pressure on Bashir, limiting his ability to interact diplomatically and decreasing his legitimacy.  The ICC is one way to bring about Bashir’s removal, or at least his restraint, but it is not the only way.   Placing all of our eggs in the ICC basket makes us forget all of the other policy and advocacy options that are available to us.

If the only way for Sudan to improve is for the ICC to apprehend and try Bashir, then us Sudan activists should probably stop reading the Sudan Tribune, forget where Abyei is, and play more golf.  This attitude gives advocates almost nothing to do.  We can ask Kenya and Egypt to take a tougher stance on Bashir all we want, but our chances of success are about as good as Obama claiming an endorsement from the NRA.  The belief that Sudan cannot improve with Bashir in power uses moralizing rhetoric to cover-up political realities.  Omar al-Bashir, is, without of doubt, one of the worst heads of state of the 21st Century (he might even be up there with legends), but he is also beholden to outside interests and powers.  Bashir needs certain things, like a steady supply of arms, cash, and oil.  In order to maintain access to these necessities, he has to be willing to negotiate.  He’s also clearly pretty good at it: it’s not easy to stay in power for twenty-three years.  Therefore, it is possible to use leverage against Bashir to improve conditions in Sudan.  Also, improvement in Sudan does not necessarily have to go through Bashir.  The government of Sudan, while repressive, is not all-powerful, and has a limited capacity to snuff out positive change (also, it as violence against civilians is always in the interests of Bashir).  Sudan can improve, even with Bashir at the helm, and advocates shouldn’t turn to fatalist language to rally support for the cause.

Relying on the international community to bring Bashir to justice implicitly overlooks the ability of Sudanese to make organic political change.  This summer, Sudan was rocked by #SudanRevolts, Bashir is running out of money, and his governing coalition is starting to fall apart.  Movements like Girifna have organized activists and put real pressure on the NCP.  In this scenario, the main actors are the Sudanese, and relying on the ICC as an agent of change is disrespectful to the many dedicated activists risking their lives to topple Bashir’s administration.  The international community can certainly hasten Bashir’s downfall through sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but ultimately it is up to the Sudanese to make political change.  Enforced political change from the outside won’t last, and so Sudan advocates must cease relying on the ICC as an all-powerful, semi-magical tool to bring about regime change.

I’m betting that Bashir will have lost power by the time I graduate from college.  This won’t happen because the ICC finally figures out an ingenious way to arrest him, but because the internal dynamics of Sudan’s politics and economics force him out.  Therefore, Sudan advocates need to plan for the day after Bashir leaves, but also remember that there is a lot of work to be done in the interim.

Mentioning “Genocide” is a Political Strategy in This Country

23 Oct

*While my blog will generally consist of organized, thought-out articles, my anger at the appearance of genocide in the debate tonight prompted this post.

The only mention of “genocide” in tonight’s “foreign policy” debate was Mitt Romney saying that he would charge Ahmadinejad with genocide if he were elected President.  In what court, Governor Romney, do you think you could do this?  The ICC perhaps?  Guess not, because your party blocked the US from signing onto the Rome Statute.  And Mittens, do have any idea how the UN defines genocide?  Pretty sure it doesn’t include “genocide by citation” or whatever your BS phrase was.   You used the word “genocide” as a way to score political points by showing just how tough you are on Iran.  In the process you made a mockery of the United States’ role in genocide prevention.

If Mitt Romney’s bastardization of genocide is the only time it comes up in the ninety minutes of the campaign supposedly solely devoted to America’s foreign policy, what does that say about genocide prevention’s role in American politics?  Despite the 777 letters delivered to Bob Schieffer, we didn’t get a question on genocide, or even a moderator with enough resolve to challenge Mittens’ ridiculous assertion.  Bob Schieffer, as a representative of the American political system, failed miserably in this moment.  Genocide is not a word that we can bat around to support war-mongering policies: it is the epitome of human suffering and hatred.  If such an egregious error and insult is not corrected in the most public of political forums, it appears that our society doesn’t care much for stopping and preventing genocide.  We as anti-genocide activists need to work harder to make sure that this attitude does not continue to poison American politics.

Negotiation vs. Justice: Strategies on Legally Combating Gang Violence and Mass Atrocities (Part II)

6 Oct

*This is the second post in a two part series that examines how we can conceptualize gang violence in the United States through the framework of civilian protection, mass atrocities, and political violence.  I will continue to call the city I worked in Joplin to protect the identity of the people I mention. 

                                                                                                                                                                

Combating gang violence in Joplin is a widely discussed and contentious issue.  Everyone has an opinion and no one agrees.  Strategies range from police crackdowns to church outreach to mentoring programs, but none of these have a monopoly on gang response.  The same challenges exist in international justice.  There are many strategies for dealing with war criminals, each one with its own consequences.

In Joplin, the central strategic divide is justice versus mediation.  Those connected to the city government tend to favor the former, with the idea that the only way to stop gang violence is to “take the drug dealers off the streets”.  Strategies focused on locking up violent youths aren’t monolithic, but they repeatedly fall back on increasingly authoritarian strategies due to the inability to fully stop violence through arrests alone.  The mediation approaches mostly exist outside of government, and focus on using community centers and mentoring programs to reach drug dealers on a personal level.  As a community member told me, “A lot of these kids don’t want to deal drugs, but they don’t know how to get out.”  Despite the promising nature of mediation, it is yet to receive any real institutional support in Joplin, and so it is left to already over-burdened individuals who are working on other community projects.

The justice versus mediation divide also exists in the pursuit of international justice.  While the creation of the ICC has theoretically made the meting out of justice less flexible, reality is more complicated.  Without the ability to immediately bring war criminals to justice, these indictments have potentially adverse effects on achieving peace.  While Bashir has been able to partially avoid his ICC-imposed isolation, his indictment has affected power dynamics in negotiations on ending violence in Sudan.  This unequal balance of power means that leaders like Bashir have very little incentive to negotiate their way out of power if they know a jail cell awaits them.  An indictment pushes war criminals’ backs up against a wall, leaving them nothing to lose.  This arrangement is not conducive to peace.  However, we have to also consider that relative impunity has long-term negative consequences too.  Still, it is questionable to what extent the ICC and other judicial bodies are effective in deterring potential war criminals.  Therefore, we need to examine each case individually, and determine whether the potential of increased violence in the short-term is worth long-term justice.

A central problem with the ICC and police crackdowns on gang violence is that they fail to fully recognize the organic political power of war criminals or gangs.  It is easy to indict Joseph Kony, who has very few friends and isn’t embedded in a political process, but an individual like Bashir holds an immense of power.  He has the ability to kill thousands or keep Sudan peaceful.  Gangs often have the same proportional power.  They are community institutions, and they cannot simply be crushed in order to return to a previous imagined status quo.  Advocates of justice must recognize that no matter how unsavory, war criminals and gangs can provide valuable partners in conflict resolution and transformation.  In the New York Times, Paul Thomas Chamberlin writes, “As Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams and Menachem Begin have shown, yesterday’s “terrorists” have a tendency to turn into tomorrow’s peacemakers. We should be careful not to let our fears of terrorists continue to blind us to opportunities when diplomatic openings present themselves.”  We must resist the impulse that crimes, no matter the political context, must be dealt with completely standardized justice mechanisms.

Dealing with gangs as political actors is not an untested idea.  In El Salvador, a Catholic bishop was able to broker a truce and initiate a peace process between two of San Salvador’s most dangerous gangs.  Gangs do not solely exist to terrorize citizens, but also because of poverty, access to guns, etc.   If these conditions can be reversed and gang members are provided with a way to productively re-integrate into society, a lasting peace that no police crackdown can provide is possible.  This approach can even be used in response to terrorism.  Every group, no matter how brutal, has fissures and objectives that can be exploited through negotiation.  Even the LRA, a group widely condemned as solely a terrorist organization without a political agenda, is vulnerable to attempts to convince child soldiers to desert.

During my last few weeks in Joplin, I met Jason (not his real name), a self-described community activist and founder of Men in the Community (not a real name either), a group of Joplin men, most of whom are former drug dealers who have turned their lives around.  While Men in the Community does various mentoring and nonviolent peacekeeping work, Jason also maintains contact with numerous gang members throughout the city.  While he tries to talk kids out of joining or staying in gangs, he is also able to glean the most recent and accurate information on crimes, making him an invaluable resource in the community.  An initiative from the mayor’s office, the Community Taskforce, is supposed to perform the same role, but it is largely ineffective.   This impotency is due to the Taskforce’s direct connection with the police and city government, which is generally more interested in making arrests than negotiating with gangs.  This destroys all credibility in the eyes of gang members.  Jason, on the other hand, is careful to avoid associating himself with authority, thereby maintaining his unique information-gathering abilities.

This is a model that can be applied to combating political violence and mass atrocities.  Attempts at informal negotiations with unattached mediators should always be the first response to violence.  Negotiations give the chance to de-escalate the situation, improving trust and communication among opposing sides.  The use of the ICC or other judicial processes may still be necessary, but negotiations provide a constructive route to conflict resolution.