27 Jun 2008

Canada accused of undermining international court

Canwest News Service - June 26, 2008

Could set back the whole basic movement of rules of law against crimes against humanity, including child soldiers

by Kathryn May

OTTAWA - In a bid to bring a peace deal to war-torn Northern Uganda, Canada may end up undermining the very credibility of the International Criminal Court that has been a key piece of this country's foreign policy.
International justice advocates say Canada appears to be quietly promoting a proposal to drop charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army, to help seal a peace deal that could end the brutal war that has ravaged Northern Uganda for more than 20 years.
A copy of an unclassified document that Canadian officials are said to have circulated to member countries of the UN Security Council says Canada is open "in principle" to the idea of Uganda asking the security council to defer the indictments against Kony and his band of commanders. Canada played an instrumental role in creating the court, based in The Hague, and the indictments against Kony are among the first it issued. Its president is Canadian Judge Phillip Kirsch.
Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign minister for the Jean Chretien government, said such a move undermines Canada's leadership in international justice and the "human security" approach to global issues. He argued it opens the door to impunity for Kony, who in his violent fight to bring in a government based on the Ten Commandments, kidnapped thousands of children and terrorized them to fight as soldiers in the war. Axworthy was a panellist here Thursday, discussing Canada's role in international justice at the official launch of the Canadian Centre for International Justice.
"If we let him and his chief commanders off the hook we will have set back the whole basic movement of rules of law against crimes against humanity, including child soldiers," Axworthy said.
"Using the judicial systems as a form of sanction and deterrent is a very powerful tool and I think that if the Uganda government and the Security Council give in to blackmail, they will set the cause of international justice back to where it was before (General Augusto) Pinochet or Idi Amin," said Axworthy.
Axworthy argued the proposal trades justice for a quick peace deal, but lasting peace will be impossible without justice for those who raped, mutilated, kidnapped and killed so many.
The peace negotiations in Uganda have been marked by a highly divisive debate over how to mete justice to Kony and his rebel leaders. Many have argued the ICC indictments have stood in the way of reaching a peace agreement. Thousands of people, displaced by the war, are still living in squalid camps and don't want to return to their homes until Kony signs the peace deal. They feel Kony will never surrender unless the ICC indictments are dropped.
Robert Fowler, a longtime diplomat who served as Canada's ambassador to the UN and personal representative for Africa for former prime ministers Chretien and Paul Martin, and current leader Stephen Harper, said Canada and the rest of the international community face a "Hobson's choice" in resolving the Uganda conflict.
"It's not easy. This is not a black-and-white situation. Neither choice is a good one," he said.
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