Where Should Peace and Justice Rank for Democratizing Nations Emerging from Violence?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been placed under international scrutiny and even outrage within the last year, most notably because it has commenced a trial against current Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto for crimes against humanity committed during the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya. The court also remains under criticism for its continued, almost exclusive pursuit of African perpetrators, with all of the 21 cases from 8 different situations (countries) opened in the court coming from Africa. (It is important to note, however, that of the 8 situations referred to the ICC, 5 of them were referred to the court by the African nations themselves, and that the ICC is a court of last resorts, meaning that it may only pursue cases when national judicial systems fail to do so themselves.)

This ‘African bias’ of the ICC has given President Kenyatta, along with other African leaders, the fuel needed to attack the court and even attempt to withdraw from it. Given Kenya’s economic and political weight in Africa, namely in East Africa, President Kenyatta has been able to galvanize many African leaders to join his anti-ICC crusade and has even managed to force the court to bend its own rules. Specifically, the court has agreed to “special rules” for acting government officials, such as allowing for absences from hearings. As many have pointed out, such an action calls into question the court’s ability to execute fair and equal justice for all, no matter their position. As one Kenyan human rights activist and lawyer, Abdul Noormohamed, stated, “This is what we do at home, bending the courts for the sake of the powerful…It’s painful to see an international court now changing the rules for the sake of the ego of one powerful man.” 

One issue the Kenyan case has glaringly highlighted in the international arena are the inherent difficulties in pursuing justice at the potential cost of peace, especially for democratizing nations. When examining democratic transitions, especially ones that occur after or in the midst of violent conflict, it becomes difficult to determine whether peace and stability or justice should prevail. Often, there must be some concessions made which sacrifice justice in order to achieve peace and vice versa.

This is clearly a large part of the debate over the ICC’s decision to bring sitting President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to justice. Now that Kenya has reestablished peace and stability following the 2007 post-election violence, does that mean that justice should not be pursued at the highest levels in order to maintain this peace? Is the threat of instability, not even the promise of it, an acceptable justification for the ICC to bend its rules to cater to a powerful leader? And what of the many thousands of victims of this violence, is potential peace worth the cost of their right to justice? Contrarily, is the endless pursuit of justice worth the lives that may be ruined in the future should this pursuit backfire? 

These questions about peace and justice, along with many others about the future and continued relevance of the ICC, can be applied to many contexts and will continue to play out in the international arena, especially with the recent launching of war crimes investigations in the Central African Republic. Democratizing nations emerging from violent pasts must weigh the costs of both peace and justice in order to find a balance between the two so that violence does not continue in the future and so that perpetrators of past violence face some form of justice.

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4 Responses to Where Should Peace and Justice Rank for Democratizing Nations Emerging from Violence?

  1. liasor101 says:

    The ICC’s relevance should be questioned. The truth of the matter is that such an organization is necessary in an international system that is packed with people that have committed such violent crimes. I do admit the flaws of the ICC and now more than ever its failures could be detrimental for international law. If the court is made to bend any more its laws, do you think that this could potentially undermine the strength of other international institutions that demand justice and human security? Will this leak to other fields of international relations such as sovereignty in pursuing heads of states in their respective territories? If so this could have some major implications and policy recommendations pro the strengthening of the ICC.

  2. mattryanshade says:

    I agree with Liasor’s concerns regarding the weakening of the ICC (and international law, more broadly). Given the ICC’s already limited support from parts of the international community, the United States included, I would not have carried out the changes described in the post as it made it even more difficult than it already is for the court to rule in cases and bring those to justice who have committed terrible crimes. If anything, it could be argued that instead of relaxing rules for sitting leaders it would be more appropriate to make them more strict as people in power (as opposed to those who committed crimes in the more distant past) have the ability to continue with the crimes they commit.

  3. amandacatalina says:

    I believe that the ICC agreed to allow video conferences for some of the court proceedings, in order to make it easier for leaders to participate but also remain in their country. I think that this case is partially complicated by the fact that Kenyatta is only the second leader to be involved in an ICC case while also still serving as a leader.

    In terms of the Justice vs. Peace, it’s a difficult hierarchy to consider. I feel that for the victims, they have been waiting so long for some sort of justice that there would be stronger consequences in regard to faith in the justice system if the case fails to go to trial. It also sets a negative precedent that a government can obstruct a legal investigation regarding crimes against humanity and then the case collapses because of this obstruction. I think that relates to the inherent weakness of an international court that relies on cooperation of those being investigated.

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