A visit to The Hague, Netherlands, the home of the International Criminal Court, was a perfect opportunity to analyze mankind’s inability to bring true justice—especially to war-torn Africa.
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It is a continent of tremendous beauty and diversity. Dry, unending deserts—verdant, deep-green jungles—vast plains filled with roaming exotic creatures.
Africa changes you. Those who have traveled there understand why some never leave. Its red soils not only stay in one’s mind, but also in one’s heart. Every continent on this planet has its own beauty, but Africa is special. Having traveled there several times, both in the eastern and southern regions of the continent, I have experienced some of this beautiful land. I have also had the pleasure to meet many of its wonderful people—who, despite often having limited material wealth, appear to be some of the happiest and most hardworking on Earth.
An old Arab proverb rings true: “He that hath drunk of Africa’s fountains, will drink again.”
Yet there is another side to the continent—extreme poverty, rampant disease, child soldiers, brutal dictators, famine, hunger, human rights abuses, and continuous killings. Such dire summary statements can be found in other areas of the world, but to some degree they summarize what many in the world think of when they hear the word “Africa.”
Case in point: in the Democratic Republic of Congo, millions have died since 1998. Some say more than five million while others report this figure to be somewhat lower. For years now, eastern Congo has been a place known for lawlessness. Various militias and armed groups roam the land carrying out a war of rampant rape against young and old. Tragically, there is no solution in sight.
Some years ago, flying from Kenya to the United States, I sat next to a nurse who had just departed from eastern Congo. When I recounted some of what I had heard was occurring there regarding rape and other atrocities, she confirmed all of it—and much more.
The stories she shared were both stunning and sobering. The pain, sorrow and suffering that so many thousands endure were hard to comprehend. She explained how women’s lives are ruined, mentally and physically, by rape and abuse. Adding insult to injury, they are often shunned as social outcasts through no fault of their own.
Similar reports of widespread violence, crippling famine, and disease epidemics can be found throughout the continent. Our hearts melt when hearing of heroin-addicted child soldiers and ladies being robbed of their womanhood.
In an attempt to bring justice not only to Africa, but also worldwide, humanity formulated a solution: the International Criminal Court (ICC), located in The Hague, Netherlands. I had the opportunity to visit this organization in November 2012. A trial occurring there called to mind my travels to Africa and its harsh realities.
The ICC began on July 1, 2002. Since then, many nations around the world have signed on. Some, due to a variety of reasons, have not. While this limits the court’s jurisdiction, it is still man’s best attempt to deal with atrocities.
According to a document produced by the ICC, it “is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.”
“The international community has long aspired to the creation of a permanent international court and, in the 20th century, it reached consensus on definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
The ICC has 18 judges from around the world with some 700 staff members from approximately 90 countries/states. Since its inception, 16 cases have been brought before the court. As of fall 2012, six were at the trial stage. Twenty-two arrest warrants have been issued, six arrests have been made, and two warrants have been withdrawn due to the deaths of the accused.
Upon review of the cases at the International Criminal Court, one realizes that it has so far solely attempted to provide justice to Africa. The case updates provided by the court, marked September 12, 2012, included situations in Uganda, the Congo, Darfur, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya and the Ivory Coast. For example, the court attempted to prosecute the late Moammar Gadhafi and has pursued the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Joseph Kony. A warrant of arrest has even been issued for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in regard to the situation in Sudan. In summary, the International Criminal Court appears to be man’s best collective effort to solve Africa’s problems.
But what has been the result after 10 years? Only one individual has been successfully prosecuted, and even that case is now being appealed.
Ten years. Yet very little justice has been served.
The ICC is housed in a modern building on the outskirts of The Hague. Heavy security is maintained including electrified barbed-wire fences. It reminded me of a foreign embassy in a troubled country—perhaps an attempt to send a message that it is an independent organization.
Inside of the building is a viewing area where interested spectators can watch what is taking place. No video equipment or cameras are permitted.
During my visit, a trial was in session. It immediately became clear that it had been going on for some time. Very few members of the press were present, but there were a few friends, relatives or supporters of the accused.
The defendant sat at one end of the courtroom with several defense attorneys in front of him. On the other end were prosecutors. Between these two parties sat a three-judge panel and a few other court employees. All three faced the witness stand. The witness was obscured and out of view so as to not reveal his identity.
Watching from a few feet away, I more fully understood why so many years had passed and only one person had been sentenced.
The defendant was on trial for two crimes against humanity—rape and murder—and three war crimes—rape, murder and pillaging a town or place.
Painstakingly, the prosecution cross-examined one of the defendant’s witnesses. The questions were thorough and lengthy, and about only one aspect of the charges.
While the individual did not do these things himself, prosecutors claimed he was responsible for an army in the Central African Republic that committed the crimes.
The defense, however, argued that this particular army was “loaned” or “given” to another African leader during this time, which would make the defendant innocent of any crimes committed.
This sort of legal maneuvering is typical of cases that come before the ICC.
In the article “The International Criminal Court—Why Africa Still Needs It,” The Economist wrote, “Above all, national judicial systems must be strengthened so that African countries can do the ICC’s job themselves. After all, the ICC is meant to be a court of last resort. It intervenes in Africa so much only because African countries have been unable or unwilling to handle complex and costly trials themselves. And African governments must enshrine the ICC statutes in their own laws, so they can bring prosecutions for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. So far only a handful have done so; a few more are to follow soon. More must do so, until, in some far-off legal nirvana, Africa will not need the ICC at all” (emphasis added).
Man has been seeking his own solutions for thousands of years. Each time, success is sought, yet failure is found.
We all want peace, safety and abundance for all. These are the lofty ideals of many international organizations including the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and the ICC. Think tanks spend a lot of time and money trying to solve basic problems.
Yet such ideals are never achieved. This is because these institutions address the effects, not the underlying cause of the problems—human nature.
Consider the paradox of mankind. In the 21st century, we are surrounded by technology, innovation, invention and progress. We can put a man on the moon, rovers on Mars, and send satellites hurtling away from our galaxy at tremendous speed, yet we cannot stop the madness of war crimes. We cannot prevent women and children from being raped and exploited. We cannot conquer human nature.
Human nature is violent and ugly. We need not look only at Africa to see that. We can see it all around us daily, in newspaper headlines, on television, even on our own front doorsteps.
Yet there is an Instruction Manual for mankind that explains human nature and could serve all people if they would allow it—the Bible.
Of all men used to record this Book, King Solomon may have had the deepest insight into the human condition. He is known as the wisest man who ever lived. His words are recorded in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
In Ecclesiastes, he explained the end result of slow and ineffective rendering of justice: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (8:11).
Why can humanity not see the problems and ills described? Why do they seem unable to grasp the cause?
The Bible again answers, this time in the book of Jeremiah. Notice: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man…to direct his steps” (10:23).
Could it really be that simple? Under inspiration of the God who created the universe, the prophet Jeremiah reveals that man is simply unable “to direct his steps”—and therefore unable to govern, direct and rule nations, and prevent atrocities and crimes against humanity from occurring.
But there is a solution! The suffering masses in Africa, and throughout the entire world, will no longer experience the anguish these crimes against humanity bring—and sooner than you think.
Take time to read David C. Pack’s free book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View! to find out how.