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Ari Kohen: So much for international justice?

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, Photograph: Ed Oudenaarden/AFP/Getty

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, Photograph: Ed Oudenaarden/AFP/Getty

Over at Running Chicken Ari Kohen has an excellent post on the decision of the International Criminal Court to suspend proceedings against Congolese war lord Thomas Lubanga. Kohen writes:

There are two ways to look at today’s suspension of ICC proceedings against Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga:

  1. This is a good day for international justice in that the Court wants to be sure that international standards for fair trials are met, regardless of the nature of the crimes allegedly committed by the defendant. Doing so will minimize blowback against the Court in the future, will increase a feeling of transparency with regard to the Court’s proceedings, and will limit the possibility of overturning its judgements on appeal;
  2. This is a bad day for international justice in that one arm of the Court seems not to be cooperating with the other arm or listening to the pronouncements of the head, to use a somewhat strained bodily metaphor.

What happened, exactly, is this:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today suspended proceedings in the case of a Congolese warlord accused of recruiting child soldiers, saying that prosecutors have refused orders to disclose information to his defence.

The Court’s Trial Chamber I ordered to stay the proceedings “considering that the fair trial of the accused is no longer possible due to non-implementation of the Chamber’s orders by the Prosecution.”

In brief, Lubanga is “faces two counts of war crimes: conscripting and enlisting child soldiers into the military wing of his group and then using them to participate in hostilities between September 2002 and August 2003.”

For a whole lot more on Lubanga, the trial, and the perception of both by the Congolese, here’s Adam Hochschild’s terrific piece in The Atlantic from December 2009.

Regardless of Lubanga’s guilt (which really doesn’t seem to be in much doubt), the Court is setting an important precedent here: instead of proceeding with a trial that might later be decried as sham justice, the ICC is putting its foot down now (to continue with my strained bodily metaphor) about the fair trial standards that must be followed. The prosecution cannot keep information from the defense and it cannot flout the Court’s orders, not if we’re to look back on these trials and confirm that justice was done.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.