Friday, May 22, 2009

ICC Haskanita: Send a message to these killer thugs

Here is an opinion piece from The Age by Rebecca Hamilton (who is in Australia, writing a book on Darfur, I think) May 23, 2009. Pity it wasn't authored by the rebel supporting Save Darfur Coalition who, in my view, are responsible for prolonging the Darfur war. The rebels won't give up on using violence to get what they want while they have Save Darfur Coalition onside.

Send a message to these killer thugs
Courts have a role in protecting the protectors in the world's trouble spots.

THIS week, Darfuri rebel commander Abu Garda made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I watched as the charges of war crimes against African Union peacekeepers were read out to him.

The pristine courtroom felt more than just geographically distant from the dusty, crowded refugee camps I have visited on the Chad-Darfur border. But what took place in that room will reverberate, not only in Darfur, but across current and future peacekeeping missions worldwide.

The ICC judges found reasonable grounds to believe that Abu Garda is responsible for three counts of war crimes, based on his involvement in a September 2007 attack that left 12 peacekeepers dead and eight injured. Those numbers pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of Dafuri civilians who have died over the past six years of the conflict in Sudan's western region. 
Consequently, some will question the prosecution's decision to spend scarce resources investigating a crime with a relatively low number of direct victims. But the absolute numbers involved do not accurately reflect the severity of this type of crime or the breadth of damage it can cause.
On April 7, 1994 — the first day of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda — 10 Belgium peacekeepers were murdered. Their killers, the Interahamwe militia, who would go on to slaughter more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians in the following 100 days, calculated that killing 10 peacekeepers would be enough to scare off the rest of the peacekeeping mission. They were right. The murders precipitated the withdrawal of most of the remaining UN peacekeepers. The countries that deployed them did not want to risk further casualties in defence of a humanitarian mission.

Late last year the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda did — 14 years after the fact — find Rwandan colonel Theoneste Bagosora criminally responsible for the murder of the Belgian peacekeepers. But this charge of murder failed to recognise that it was not only the peacekeepers' lives that were lost. The UN withdrawal that followed the murders left the Interahamwe to carry out genocide virtually unimpeded, increasing the overall death toll relative to what it would have been if the peacekeepers had remained. Another charge is needed to account for such second-order effects, which occur whenever peacekeepers are attacked. The case against Abu Garda does just that.

The ICC is authorised to prosecute individuals for the crime of intentionally attacking the people or property involved in a peacekeeping mission. Abu Garda has been charged with this crime, in addition to a charge of violence to life for the murder of the peacekeepers, and a pillaging charge for the property stolen from the peacekeepers' base.

By prioritising this crime over the countless others that have been perpetrated in Darfur, the prosecution is sending a signal that would-be perpetrators of future attacks against peacekeepers will not miss. There is now a permanent international court with both the mandate, and the will, to hold individuals criminally responsible for the full impact of an attack on a peacekeeping mission.

No case will bring back the sons of Senegal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mali, Botswana, Uganda or Ghana — each country has lost troops in their service to the peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Nor will it bring back the lives of Darfuris who have been killed while the peacekeepers sent to protect them were themselves under attack. But by pursuing this case, the ICC sends an important reminder to the world: to have any hope of protecting civilians, we must safeguard the rights of the peacekeepers we send to protect them.

Rebecca Hamilton is an Open Society Institute fellow. She has worked at the International Criminal Court and with displaced people in Sudan.

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