The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague says he suspects crimes against humanity are being committed in Libya as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi tries to bludgeon his rebellious people into submission.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo is mandated by the U.N. Security Council to investigate the world’s worst crimes when other forms of justice fail but he has been attacked as “racist” for focussing on Africa while ignoring other serious crimes elsewhere in the world.
True, all of the five cases he has so far brought involve African countries (Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic and Kenya) and he is looking into abuses in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria as well as Libya.
But his teams are also investigating possible crimes in Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia, Palestine, Honduras and Korea. Complaints at the African Union that Ocampo is prejudiced look disingenuous and self-serving.
Ocampo has shown a willingness to go after the continent’s untouchables, whether a Sudanese president, a local Congolese thug, an unaccountable Kenyan politician or an infamous Ugandan rebel, stepping in where local justice mechanisms have proved unable or unwilling to bring people to book.
The loudest anti-Ocampo/anti-ICC voices are frequently rallied by Gaddafi, the self-styled architect of a theoretical United States of Africa (that he would of course lead), and backed by other nasties who have shown themselves keener to protect their positions than their people.
To silence these critics Ocampo could do with opening a case outside of Africa, and that will surely come, but in the meantime targeting Gaddafi is likely to elicit another round of accusations of racism.
But the sad fact is that it is in Africa that justice is so often failing the people it should serve. And while the leaders complain – doubtless with an eye on their own records – the people seem not to.
Here in Kenya the government is fiddling about trying to block the ICC’s looming indictment of four senior politicians, a former police chief and a radio presenter accused of complicity in violence that killed more than 1,000 people following a disputed 2007 election.
Yet opinion polls say three-quarters of Kenyans are in favour of the ICC’s involvement. And on a popular satirical puppet show the character who gets the biggest cheers is ‘Super-Ocampo’, the caped hero who flies through the sky dealing out justice to Kenya’s feckless leaders.