For years, Africa’s complaint that the ICC has been biased against Africans has been dismissed by the major powers, but now there is an unlikely ‘ally’ – John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor. By Baffour Ankomah
Some of us are too humble to call ourselves prophets; maybe we don’t need to, when we have John Bolton still with us on this earth. I remember him very well, Mr Bolton (he who now sports a white moustache). On 10 October 2003, when the evergreen Bolton was the US Deputy Secretary of State for Arms Control, The Guardian (UK) reported him as having said in an interview that Israel’s nuclear weapons capability was not a problem.
“The issue for the US is what poses a threat to the US.” On Iraq, Mr Bolton told The Guardian: “The purpose of military action [in 2003, by George Bush and Tony Blair] was to eliminate the regime. The real security risk was the regime.” Not weapons of mass destruction, as Bush and Blair told the world. Now fast forward to 10 September 2018. Mr Bolton is now National Security Adviser to Donald Trump (he of the “s—hole countries”), and Bolton decides to do a demolition job on the International Criminal Court (ICC) on behalf of his boss. And what a worker Bolton is! His demolition job is so brutal that some of us who have had run-ins with the ICC for years look like perfect angels from God’s heaven.
We were only left with the task of saying “We told you so.” Long time readers of New African will remember the big cover stories (several of them) we did in the magazine about how the ICC was not ﬁt for purpose, at least for Africans; and how its targeting of African defendants with the masochistic fervour of a reformed sinner, was part of an agenda by its European supporters to continue their racist construct of a so-called Dark Continent that had the monopoly of brutality.
It is difﬁcult to believe that in 16 years of existence, the ICC has opened 11 investigations, of which 10 are focused on African countries, and all 37 named defendants are from Africa! Now hear it from Mr Bolton: He calls the ICC “this illegitimate court” and “a fantasy of international law”. He goes on: “In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses. In practice, however, the Court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.”
We told you so. Mr Bolton’s words were so earth-shaking that readers should allow me to quote him more extensively here. “In no uncertain terms,” he went on, “the ICC was created as a free-wheeling global organisation claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent … It claims ‘automatic jurisdiction’, meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognised, signed, or ratiﬁed the [Rome] treaty. “Several African nations have recently withdrawn or threatened to withdraw their membership, citing the disproportionate number of arrest warrants against Africans. To them, the ICC is just the latest European neo-colonial enterprise to infringe upon their sovereign rights.” And Bolton was not ﬁnished. “The ICC’s authority,” he continued, “has been sharply criticised and rejected by most of the world. Today, more than 70 nations, representing two-thirds of the world’s population, and over 70% of the world’s armed forces, are not members of the ICC. “There are no adequate mechanisms to hold the Court and its personnel accountable, or curtail its unchecked powers when required. Recent allegations of mismanagement and corruption among ICC personnel make this perfectly clear. “The ﬁrst prosecutor elected by the Assembly of States Parties attempted to protect a high-ranking government ofﬁcial from prosecution, assisted a businessman with links to violations in Libya, and shared conﬁdential court documents with Angelina Jolie.
In short, the ICC unacceptably concentrates power in the hands of an unchecked executive who is accountable to no one.” Mr Bolton then threw the sink at The Hague-based court: “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” he fumed, adding truculently: “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.” Hear, hear.
Boot pinching ugly foot For those of us who have for years been saying and writing what Mr Bolton is now saying with more bile, the vituperations of America’s national security advisor are music to the soul. We feel vindicated that our words, said and written in those long-gone days, have not been in vain. My beef, however, with Mr Bolton and his boss, and all those bosses and ofﬁcials dead and alive who ran and still run the USA, is that they are only crying foul when the pinching boot is now on their ugly foot. Bolton and Trump are angry because, as Bolton put it, “in November of 2017, the ICC Prosecutor requested authorisation to investigate alleged war crimes committed by US service members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan – an investigation neither Afghanistan nor any other State Party to the Rome Statute requested. “Any day now, the ICC may announce the start of a formal investigation against these American patriots, who voluntarily went into harm’s way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The ICC Prosecutor has requested to investigate these Americans for alleged detainee abuse, and perhaps more – an utterly unfounded, unjustiﬁ able investigation.”
Bolton reminds me of Roy Hattersley, the former UK Labour Party deputy leader. “Politicians who behave like Billy Graham,” Hattersley once said, “cannot complain if converts get carried away.” The US is not a member of the ICC and will not fund it, Bolton says. But the US has used and manipulated the ICC and its other ‘baby courts’ linked to it, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), to politically persecute, prosecute, and jail former leaders and people the US does not like.
Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, is now sitting in a British jail serving 50 long years because the US bent the hands of what Bolton now calls “faraway bureaucrats and robed judges” of the SCSL to perpetrate an egregious miscarriage of justice against Taylor, because the US wanted him out of the way. Now Mr Bolton is crying foul because the ICC wants to investigate some American service men. God should have mercy on Mr Bolton and his boss. He claims that “no committee of foreign nations will tell us how to govern ourselves and defend our freedom”.
Shame on you Mr Bolton! That is precisely what the US has been doing around the world for aeons, telling faraway nations, like ours in Africa, how to govern ourselves and defend our freedom. It is time America woke up and smelt the coffee. You must taste the bitter medicine you have always prescribed for others. So Mr Bolton, stop the whining and take the bottle.