Thursday, July 31, 2008


Religion will not shield war criminals
One ardent reader last week expressed his disappointment that for once, this column, had lost its objectivity when it supported the trial of Sudanese President Al-Bashir for crimes against humanity.

The reader stated thus: “You do not deserve to be blamed. You are a victim of a well-organised and well-coordinated campaign against Islam and the Islamic way of life (including governance) worldwide.

This campaign is conducted on all fronts including, but not limited to, mass media propaganda, military invasions, economic sanctions and legal battles. But you also deserve the blame because despite your education background, you have accepted wittingly or unwittingly to be manipulated and used by global anti-Islamic elements.”

For the record, this reader’s views are completely at odds with the arguments that were made- that people need not politicise or radicalise in a religious sense, charges brought against dictators for war crimes and crimes against humanity visited upon innocent, unarmed civilians anywhere in the world.

The function of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as per the provisions of the Rome Statute is above manipulation for religious, political or any other benefit. The judges are given unprecedented independence in the performance of their functions.

The law bars judges of the ICC from taking part in any case in which their impartiality might reasonably be doubted on any ground. Similarly, neither the court’s prosecutor nor his or her deputy is allowed to engage in any activity which is likely to interfere with his or her prosecutorial functions or to affect confidence in his or her independence. The court’s prosecutors are also prohibited from engaging in any other professional occupation.

These are the same principles that govern the special war crimes tribunals set up under special resolutions of the UN General Assembly to try war criminals like in the cases of Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

And in that regard, the international community should take comfort in last week’s capture of Radovan Karadzic, a psychiatrist accused of masterminding the deadly wartime siege of Sarajevo and the executions of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. The victims of this brutality were Muslims and this should cement the argument that international criminal law doesn’t discriminate against anyone along religious lines.

The suspected war criminal, Karadzic, has been in hiding for 13 years after he was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1995 on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 and 1996.

Governments worldwide have applauded the arrest of the man described by the tribunal as the mastermind of “scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.” But for the victims and the entire civilised/free world the message is clear: massive human rights violations cannot go unpunished.

The capture of the fugitive demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later, all fugitives including our very own, Joseph Kony, and his other indicted Lords Resistance Army (LRA) commanders will be caught and brought to justice.

In the land mark case of Pinochet, another dictator who was indicted for his savage and barbarous crimes, court stated that international criminal law imposes an absolute obligation to all members of the international community to help in the arrest and trial of suspects accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Court further noted that offences against humanity may be punished by any state because the offenders are common enemies of all mankind and all nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and prosecution.
The international community should bring all its resources to bear on the process of ensuring justice and peace in the world.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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