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The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Mrs Fatou Bensouda will be in Kenya from 22-26 October, 2012. Reports from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) state that the purpose of Mrs. Bensouda and her team’s trip to Kenya will primarily be to visit victims of the post-election violence as well as to obtain crucial information that would support the prosecution’s cases against four Kenyans whose trials will commence at the ICC next year in April.

A few weeks ago, the Head of Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation at the OTP Mr Phakiso Mochochoko, wrote to Kenya’s Attorney General (AG) Prof Githu Muigai expressing disappointment for a lack of effective cooperation by Kenya with the OTP. The OTP has been seeking Kenya’s cooperation in obtaining information from different government agencies. Kenya is obligated under Article 86 of the Rome Statute to cooperate with the ICC. The AG blamed the delay in cooperating with the OTP on the failure of certain government agencies who possess the required information to quickly respond to the OTP’s request. The AG has reiterated that Kenya remains committed to her obligations under the Rome Statute. Prof Muigai has also praised Mrs Bensouda’s better approach to her mandate and relations with States Parties to the Rome Statute that created the ICC than her predecessor Mr Louis Moreno-Ocampo. However as Chief Legal Advisor to the government of Kenya, it is his responsibility to ensure that Kenya abides by its international commitments.

It is clear in the past few months that Mrs. Bensouda has been in office as Chief Prosecutor that she has a different leadership style to her predecessor who was shrouded with controversy over his sometimes boisterous approach to his mandate. With such a start to her mandate, the Fatou Effect as I have called it elsewhere is bound to have a more persuasive, endearing and results-oriented function about the OTP. This is a good thing and necessitates cordial relationships between the ICC situation countries and the OTP. Often the first or more prominent organ in the interface between a situation country and the ICC, it is important that the OTP establishes and maintains the right approach to prosecutions and investigations and Fatou has clearly understood this.

For Kenya, a visit form the ICC Chief Prosecutor can be used to mend fences where the relationship between government and the ICC was strained following Ocampo’s initiation of investigations in the country. We should not however forget that Fatou was the Deputy Prosecutor at the time when the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber authorized OTP’s investigations into Kenya, and it is unlikely that her sentiments on the prosecutions and investigations in Kenya have changed since her taking office as Chief Prosecutor. Rather the Fatou we see now, is seasoned with the experiences – both failings and successes of the OTP over the past 10 years of its operations, which no doubt inform the prosecutorial strategy for the Kenya cases.

Cooperation by States Parties with the ICC can be a two-way street. Within the ambit of positive complementarity – a concept that solidified its footing at the Kampala Review Conference of the ICC’s founding treaty in 2010 – Kenya can request for the support of the ICC in effectively investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of committing crimes related to the post-election violence. We are certainly not referring to local prosecution for the four Kenyans whose trials are scheduled to start in April 2013, but rather the many other perpetrators of crimes following the 2007 elections in Kenya. The OTP is on record stating that although it will not provide financial support to States that ask for support under the positive complementarity principle, it can provide technical and logistical assistance. Kenya can benefit from the visit by the OTP to request for such assistance. It is important in this transition that Kenya deals with its past and that the many victims of the crimes committed following the 2007 elections are redressed.

In August 2012, a task force set up by Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mr Keriako Tobiko to look into the thousands of files at the DPP’s office relating to the PEV released an interim report with findings that many of the files may have to be closed because evidence that would be necessary to adduce before court for convictions is non-existent. This means that many victims of the PEV will not receive the justice that they have sought for the past five years. There still remain opportunities for meaningful cooperation that would benefit both Kenya and the OTP on matters relating to prosecutions and investigations in Kenya. It will take the concerted efforts of the relevant Kenyan authorities to bring this about.

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Africa Looks Forward to ‘The Fatou Effect’

On 16 June Fatou Bensouda of The Gambia was sworn in as the second Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, where she previously served as deputy to Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Bensouda was elected by a consensus of the Assembly of State Parties to theRome Statute in December 2011.

At a recent meeting in Cape Town hosted by the Open Society Foundation and attended by the IJR and other civil society organisations, the new Chief Prosecutor outlined seven key areas that she hopes to prioritise during her nine-year tenure. These are: improving the quality and efficiency of investigations; clarifying areas for preliminary investigations; improving the relations between the ICC and African states; a focus on women and children, as sub-groups among victims of international crimes; institutional development within the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP); strengthening the OTP’s relations with both internal ICC and external structures; and an emphasis on work with civil society.

These priorities come as music to the ears of justice and reconciliation practitioners in Africa, and many lie at the heart of a complex and sometimes contentious relationship between the ICC and state parties on the continent. Optimistically coined ‘the Fatou effect’, many hope that this change will signal a positive turn in Africa’s expectations of and engagements with the ICC.

The ICC is currently active in seven African ‘situation countries’. That its reputation as a singular – and predominantly retributive – custodian of international justice may broaden to include consideration of the confluence between justice and reconciliation is indeed a remarkable state of affairs.

Victims of gross human rights violations, atrocities and international crimes need a system that punishes perpetrators, and Bensouda’s new focus on women and children – who are often the most affected by war and violent conflict – is also to be welcomed. Sexual and gender-based violence have become common instruments of war in a number of ICC situation countries, and victims of these crimes are both female and male. They need a justice system that begins to repair and redress the damage caused by violence and crime, and works to provide lasting guarantees that future generations will not be subjected to further violation in times of conflict. These needs are shared by victims in northern Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Darfur, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and the Central African Republic (CAR) alike – to live in peace and security and to develop economically without fear of war, conflict and tension.

Up against growing criticism from Africa that its work on the continent pursues a ‘neo-colonial’ agenda, the OTP would also do well to establish policies that more effectively guide government engagements in the situations it investigates. Although not the only organ of the ICC, the OTP is responsible for both initiating investigations of where it deems these to be necessary, as well as for receiving and acting on requests from both state parties to the Rome Statute and the UN Security Council. As such, the OTP is often seen as the public face of the ICC, and a new tone of engagement may lead to a better understanding of its work, more support and cooperation, and less criticism.

Greater, and more constructive engagement with civil society organisations, as Bensouda has promised, may also go a long way in both improving the quality of ICC investigations and judgments, and increasing the court’s credibility in Africa. Local organisations often possess the dual advantages of access to grassroots intelligence and insight through direct engagement with people and communities, and the experience and agility to negotiate and manoeuvre through governmental and inter-governmental offices and institutions within countries. Many credible civil society organisations are willing and able to act as liaisons for dialogue between these various stakeholders.

Yet despite the anticipation surrounding ‘the Fatou effect’, it remains important to recall that all organs of the ICC are still bound by the provisions of the Rome Statute, including the OTP. Although Bensouda has committed to pursuing a more responsive, engaged and accessible ICC, her responsibilities and that of her office and the court at large remain the pursuit of criminal justice and an end to impunity by perpetrators.

Further, the responsibility for mending the sometimes tumultuous relationships between African states, the African Union and the ICC cannot fall to the court alone. For the sake of Africa’s many victims of international crimes, many of whom have little hope for redress or the resolution of ongoing violent conflict, it is also important that regional and international institutions, organisations and governance bodies uphold their own commitments to the protection, promotion and enforcement of human rights and dignity, and pursue effective and cooperative partnerships that lead to an end to mass violence and gross violations.

This piece first appeared in the South Africa Reconciliation Barometer Newsletter, Volume 10, 2012 also available at http://reconciliationbarometer.org/newsletter/volume-ten-2012/