Selective Justice at The Hague: Charging Kenyans and Ignoring Ethiopian Criminals

This past week the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague has charged four prominent Kenyan politicians of committing ‘crimes against humanity’ in connection with their role in the post-election violence of 2007/08. 

The ICC has confirmed charges against Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (who has since resigned from the finance post), Cabinet secretary Francis Kirimi Muthaura, former Education Minister William Samoei Ruto, radio executive and Kass FM presenter Joshua Arap Sang, while the charges against Tinderet MP Henry Kosgey and former Police Commissioner Hussein Ali were not confirmed because of ‘insufficient grounds’ to sustain them.

These figures, popularly known in Kenya as ‘The Ocampo Six’, have presented themselves to the Court in April 2011 and denied the accusations leveled against them. 

The latest charges come a very sensitive time when Kenyans are expected to go to the polls to elect a new leadership. Most of the accused are aspirants running for seats in upcoming elections which are scheduled to take place sometime before August this year.

Uhuru Kenyatta for one, who is a rich businessman and the son of Kenya’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was revamping his image and that of his party KANU in preparation for the elections. The announcement by the ICC could not have come a worse time for him and the others. 

The post-election violence was a turning point in that country’s political history. More than a thousand people were killed, and according to some estimates, over hundred thousand people were displaced.  The homeless victims of the violence – which the ICC document refers to as victims of ‘forcible eviction’- are still miserably languishing in makeshift homes, mostly in The Rift Valley Province. 

In economic terms, it had cost the country dearly as Kenya has joined the list of unstable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result its economic ratings fell down and the tourism sector, which is Kenya’s most priced hard currency earner, was almost devastated. Psychologically, Kenyans are still reeling from after effects of the violence. The communal harmony and peaceful coexistence between the different ethnic and tribal groups in Kenya is also shattered. 

In sum, if the world community had not immediately come to their aid, Kenyans would have faced a bleak future like those of war-torn African nations. Part of that help was the swift demand of accountability for those who ‘orchestrated’ the violence. 

Regardless of whether the ‘Okampo Six’ eventually get convicted or nor, the indictment sends a powerful signal to would be ‘orchestrators’ and perpetrators of violence in Africa. 


Although the ICC has not yet accused, let alone charged Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and his henchmen, with the crimes his Kenyan counterparts – and the Sudanese before them – stand accused, there is more than ample evidence to suggest that he had committed war-crimes, crimes against humanity, and to some extent even genocide throughout Ethiopia. Reputable international organizations, such as The Human Rights Watch and others, have extensively documented these crimes.

In a similar electoral related violence in 2005, the Ethiopian dictator Meles has ordered his troops to shoot the innocent civilians who protested against the election rigging. In the Ogaden, his troops kill, rape, torture, burn villages, and deny the media and NGOs to visit the area. All of this with impunity!

If the ICC were to ever investigate Meles Zenawi and his lieutenants, it wouldn’t take them long  to assemble against him a dossier containing one of the biggest crimes committed in recent times. But where is the political will to prosecute this reigning tyrant? As usual, political considerations trump concern for human rights in the elite power circles of the rulers of this world.

A more telling example of this double-dealing and hypocrisy is the invitations Meles receives in the international arena in places such as the G8, the G 20, and more recently, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sitting next to the South African president Jacob Zuma in Davos, Meles was lecturing the world on how he was ‘fundamentally transforming’ the Ethiopian economy. One wonders what interesting and sustainable economic ideas will Meles, who presides over a poor, famine stricken country, contribute to the Davos gathering. 
Why is this unreconstructed tyrant rubbed in our noses – those of us who are his victims? Where is the concern for Good Governance, Human Rights and the Rule of Law – which are flaunted elsewhere as prerequisite for aid – when it comes Ethiopia? 

Although the ‘Schizophrenic’ international powers who choose which criminal to bring to The Hague for prosecution – though, ironically, some of them have not even signed The Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court – have chosen to ignore Meles Zenawi’s crimes, we nevertheless expect them to return to the era when they commanded respect and admiration throughout the world; the time when the rule of law and genuine respect for human rights was the guiding principles which informed their policies. As was clearly stated in Article III of The Nuremberg Principles, designed to prosecute Nazi War crimes during World War II and later adopted by the International Commission of the United Nations in 1950: “The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.” In agreement with this, the Prosecutor of the ICC José Luis Moreno Ocampo, released a statement shortly after the ruling of the court, saying: “Another significance of the ruling is that it defined what crimes against humanity are. It goes back to Nuremberg and makes clear that no country has sovereignty to attack civilians.” Exactly the reason the former German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was hanged in 1946 for his role in the preemptive attack on Norway. And the reason Slobodan Milošević, Charless Taylor, and the others, were indicted and brought to the court. 

The international community must come back to its sense and stop the selectivity with which they apply international law. Meles Zenawi shouldn’t be lecturing respectable world leaders; instead, he should be afraid to travel overseas like his counterparts in Sudan or answering charges at The Hague like the indicted Kenyans.

Nuradin Jilani


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