The ICC - asset to international justice?by Bram Posthumus and Jan Huisman
Posted by sarkout on May 31 2009 18:33:13
The ICC - asset to international justice?by Bram Posthumus and Jan Huisman

The International Criminal Court in The Hague resumed the trial of Thomas Lubanga, a minor warlord who operated in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has been in a Dutch jail since March 2006. After a number of stumbles and controversies, this international legal tribunal is hoping for a smooth conviction to restore confidence in the court and its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Crucial to having Thomas Lubanga (pictured) tried and convicted - along with a limited number of exclusively African defendants - are witnesses.

In the Lubanga case, the prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) got off to a less than auspicious start. The very first witness initially testified against Thomas Lubanga, saying he had been recruited as a child soldier, only to retract his statement later that same day.

It is thought that the young boy feared for his safety upon his return home to the DRC.

Lessons learned
Beatrice Le Fraper, special advisor to ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, said lessons have been learned from that episode.

"This was a very painful experience for this first child witness. But it was a necessary warning signal to the International Criminal Court as a whole. But Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo is someone who has always wanted to keep the number of witnesses at a minimum, so we try to use a lot of documentary evidence."

Zealous prosecutor
Ms Le Fraper describes Luis Moreno Ocampo (pictured left) as a dedicated and energetic prosecutor who has resisted all manner of pressures - even from the many European countries which have declared themselves highly in favour of the ICC - to 'slow down one investigation here, speed up another over there.'

But in his tenure as ICC chief prosecutor Mr Moreno Ocampo's record has led some to question whether his zeal clouds his judgement.

The Lubanga trial was delayed after the Prosecutor's office refused to release evidence to the defence team, causing the court to rule that Thomas Lubanga's right to a fair trial had been breached.

More recently, the decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir came under heavy criticism after the Sudanese government retaliated by expelling foreign aid agencies from Sudan and cracking down on the local civil rights community.

Reputation damaged
Lisa Clifford, a reporter for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in The Hague, says the al-Bashir arrest warrant and other controversies have damaged the reputation of the ICC.

"Opinion is very much split on the approach the court has taken. It's pretty clear that in the short term the court is not going to be able to arrest Bashir ... With no possibility of an arrest for some time, people are wondering if the consequences of this arrest are worthwhile."

Teething problems
Critics have questioned Luis Moreno-Ocampo's judgement, saying he ought to have issued the al-Bashir arrest warrant under seal, thereby avoiding repercussions from the Sudanese government. Yet Lisa Clifford says the ICC member states are understanding of the difficulties facing the court.

"People are willing to give the prosecutor far more time to actually prove himself. There inevitably will be teething problems in an institution which, of course, is a permanent thing... That said, they do need good results, which does make this trial very important."

The Lubanga case is moving faster than expected and the prosecution could wrap up its case within two months, according to Ms Clifford
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