By Patrick Mathangani in Kampala and Agencies
The head of the global family of nations opened International Criminal Court performance review conference in Kampala with declaration of renewed war on impunity and universal legal revolution.
Mr Ban Ki-Moon proclaimed eight years after the signing of the Rome Statute that the ICC had come of age and was no longer the toothless tiger cynics taunted it to be at inception.
The UN chief told delegates the international community had resolved to end impunity and cited ICC investigations in Kenya as a pointer to The Hague’s determination to bring perpetrators of impunity to justice.
“If the ICC is to have the reach it should possess… we must have universal support, only then will perpetrators have no place to hide,” he said, adding: “Even if it saddens me to say this, the evidence will take the court beyond Africa.”
He spoke a day before Kenya’s Attorney General Amos Wako takes the hot seat today to defend Kenya’s commitment to the ICC and play down initial divisions on the official position of the Grand Coalition at the Kampala conference.
Ahead of the conference addressed by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who is retracing the footsteps of the bigwigs responsible for 2008 post-election violence, Kenya’s team struggled to clean up its bloodied nose. Sources in the delegation revealed the country’s official report was being ‘overhauled’ to accommodate the interests and voices of both parties to the Grand Coalition.
The country was on the international radar not just because of the references by Mr Ki-Moon but also the speeches of Moreno-Ocampo and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who is overseeing Kenya’s power-sharing and reforms on behalf of the international community.
“The delegates are putting up a show of unity. ODM is here to ensure no surprise clauses are inserted. The two sides are meeting for the first time here and there are questions why Kenya’s position should be discussed and refined at the Eleventh Hour,’’ a delegate revealed to The Standard.
Yesterday, Wako deployed his energies to quell fears President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity had kept governing partner Orange Democratic Movement in the dark and bore a secret report, ostensibly, representative of the whole coalition.
Before the Kenyan delegation flew out to Kampala, it emerged the report compiled by Justice Ministry, State Law Office, a team of academicians, Office of the President and Foreign ministry technocrats, would see Kenya ask change its position and ask for a one deferral of ICC investigations on post-election violence suspects.
Wako conceded to journalists at the sidelines of the conference the report had been prepared at a lower level of government, but had not been approved at a higher level.
He explained the Draft report had not been discussed by Ministers or Permanent Secretaries. Kenya’s stand had reportedly split the delegation, with the ODM side vowing to block any move that would have called for the cases into post-election violence to be deferred.
“My duty (in Kampala) is to ensure Kenya does not shift its position or ask for deferral from the ICC. Given the position of the President and the Prime Minister who support ICC, it will be ridiculous and undiplomatic for our country to ask for a deferral,’’ said Lands Minister James Orengo on Sunday.
Yesterday, he was with Wako at the press conference, after apparently ODM side found its foothold in the official delegation. The Lands minister told journalists the differences from Nairobi had been resolved. However, said Orengo had not seen the report.
Wako, whose office circulated a draft report to civil society groups, which outlined the initial position Kenya wanted to take in Kampala, argued investigations had already commenced and Government was co-operating fully with ICC.
Ocampo declared the world should not longer ignore international crimes and allow situations to deteriorate adding the rights of victims should be guaranteed in Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Darfur where ICC already has pending business.
“Never again will victims of atrocities be ignored. This is the time of action, to show how the law is implemented,” said Ocampo. He said the court had decided not take political considerations into account.
Over 100 member states
“This was a conscious decision, to force political actors to adjust to the new legal limits. We cannot both claim that we will ‘never again’ let atrocities happen and continue to appease criminals, conducting business as usual.”
The UN Secretary general also stressed ICC’s resolve to catch those who target women and children in conflict. “We have no choice but to pursue them all,” he said.
At least 100 member States are taking in part in the meeting about which Mr Ki-Moon told AFP in the morning: “Few would have believed then that this court would spring so vigorously into life, fully operational, investigating and prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
He added: “In this new age of accountability, those who commit the worst of human crimes will be held responsible.”
Ocampo who declared universal legal revolution was taking over the world told the BBC: “In Africa, what I feel is that there are some leaders who are trying to change, and some leaders who are opposing the change. And that’s the (source of) tension.”
Leading nations that have not signed up to ICC are Russia, China, India and USA, which, however, sent representatives to the Kampala Conference.
The African Union has in the past criticised the court, and last year called on members not to co-operate with ICC in enforcing the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
“But it is not Africa that is hostile to the court. When I meet Africans from all walks of life, they demand justice; from their own courts if possible, from international courts if no credible alternatives exist,” Annan explained.
Reuters quoted Annan, who as UN boss attended the Rome Statute’s founding conference… said doubts about the ICC’s credibility will persist as long as three members of the Security Council refuse to sign up. “What kind of leadership is this which would absolve the powerful from the rules they apply to the weak?” he asked.
He also urged countries not to forget why they established the ICC, saying the international community had “failed miserably” to protect victims in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.
ICC president Sang-Hyung Song said co-operation by Member States was key to its success or failure, adding, “Without co-operation, there will be no arrests, victims and witnesses will not be protected, and proceedings will not be possible.”
He urged countries to also initiate proceedings in their own countries using their own judicial systems. The ICC only handles bigger crimes committed by those in positions of power, or those with the “greatest responsibility.” “If peace and justice are not pursued hand in hand, we risk losing both,” he said.
Wako who was tasked with giving the position of 30 African states who have ratified the Rome Statute called for ICC to be empowered to deal with States that commit the controversial “crime of aggression.”
He discouraged intervention by the UN Security Council arguing jurisdiction over the crime of aggression should not be part of its mandate. “We believe that the crime of aggression ought to be treated in the same way as all other crimes,” argued Wako.
President Museveni, who is the host, appeared to ask for pardon of some suspects, saying this could help the healing process.