Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An African Criminal Court?

The mention of an "African Criminal Court" is usually a sardonic reference to the fact that all seven of the International Criminal Court investigations currently open involve African states.  Yesterday, at the 18th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, outgoing chairperson Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo actually proposed the creation of an African Criminal Court.  Obiang's stated rationale is that the International Criminal Court has discriminated against African leaders.  It is an objection that is consistent with other positions Obiang has taken to try to insulate African dictators, himself included, from external scrutiny.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, addressing the summit on Sunday, defended the record of the ICC in Africa by noting that many of the investigations have been supported by Africans themselves.  He also noted that the newly elected chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of Ghana, is an African.  Speaking to a Voice of America reporter, Ban argued that the ICC has handled its responsibilities well, using the situations in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya as examples.

In his speech to the AU, Ban urged the assembled leaders to "adopt a preventive approach to human rights."  The Arab Spring, he said, demonstrated that "police power is no match for people power seeking dignity and justice."  Ban also urged African leaders to "live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration" by ending discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The African Union Summit took place in a new headquarters building constructed at a cost of $200 million by the government of China.  The building, one of many examples of Chinese largesse in Africa, exemplifies the ongoing battle for hearts and minds--and resources--across the continent.  While the West views Africa (along with the Middle East) as one of the last bastions of political repression--a bastion breached by the Arab Spring--China appears to view the dictators of Africa as allies in the defense of sovereignty against the broad incursions made by the ideals of human rights and international justice.