ICC-Zimbawe: precedent set for ICC to target Mugabe, says former war crimes prosecutor

March 13, 2009 at 10:30 am | Posted in Africa | Leave a comment
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From Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: A distinguished South African judge and former international war crimes prosecutor says last week’s decision by the International Criminal Court to issue a warrant against Sudan’s President sets a precedent for action against Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe.

Justice Richard Goldstone said that President Mugabe’s conduct over many years warranted the attention of the International Court’s prosecutor and that he would like to see the members of the Security Council make a reference to the ICC for Mr Mugabe to be charged with crimes against humanity.

Justice Goldstone is a former judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court and is in Australia this week to deliver the annual John Bray oration. He spoke to me from Adelaide a short time ago.

Now, Justice Goldstone, you have a long association with the International Criminal Court. What was your reaction when it took the unprecedented step of issuing an arrest warrant for a sitting president, the leader of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I applaud the issue of the arrest warrant for President al-Bashir. In my view it’s very important when a huge crime, such as genocide and crimes against humanity or serious war crimes are committed, that the people most responsible should be brought to justice.

I think the world’s getting away from the pre-Second World War situation of complete impunity for war criminals. They are now amenable to justice and it should be brought home as high in the hierarchy as possible, and that’s what’s happening in Sudan.

ELEANOR HALL: The next step of course is to actually arrest him. What do you think is the most likely scenario there?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, it’s got to be a crystal ball gazer when Milosevic was indicted by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia. He was a sitting head of state. People said he’ll never be arrested, but you know, there was a revolution – that was unanticipated and his successor bundled him onto an aeroplane and sent him to The Hague where he stood trial and unfortunately died before the trial was over.

And similarly Karadzic – I was responsible when I was chief prosecutor in 1995 for issuing two indictments against Karadzic and Mladic. It looked like they would evade arrest. It took 13 years to get Karadzic and I’m still hopeful that I’ll get Mladic. So, you know, one never knows what’s around the corner.

ELEANOR HALL: In the meantime, though, aid groups in Darfur have raised concerns that the warrant prompted a retaliation from the President against them and those they help in Darfur. I mean, do you have concerns that the legal pursuit of figures like President al-Bashir could in fact result in more harm to those the Court is trying to act for.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: You know, that’s always one of the risks of justice, I think, domestically and perhaps even more so in the international community. But President Omar al-Bashir is really, in my view, is continuing his most serious criminal conduct by kicking out these groups and endangering the lives, I see from UN statements, of over a million Darfurians, and this makes it all the more important to bring him to justice.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, US President Barack Obama has spoken about Sudan today and says it’s unacceptable this reaction from him, but he says there’s now a potential crisis of even greater dimensions that we already saw. Isn’t there an argument there that it may have been better for the Court to wait until he was out of power before issuing the warrant?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: I mean, how long do you wait? I mean, take the position of Zimbabwe with Robert Mugabe. If a similar situation had arisen, does one wait a decade, two decades, and allow him to continue to oppressing and persecuting the people of Darfur because he continues to do so.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, you’ve raised Zimbabwe, that’s another place where a terrible humanitarian crisis has erupted. Does the issuing of a warrant for the President of Sudan set any precedents for action against Robert Mugabe from the International Criminal Court?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, in theory it does. Look, it’d have to be a Security Council referral. I certainly think that there’s a lot of conduct on the part of Mugabe that warrants the attention of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Zimbabwe is obviously is not a party to the Rome Treaty, so that the International Criminal Court would not have jurisdiction over Zimbabwe unless the Security Council was to makes a reference. I would hope that it would consider that, but whether it does or not, is obviously an unknown quantity.

ELEANOR HALL: What sort of charges would you consider laying?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I think certainly crimes against humanity committed by – and here I must emphasis there were many crimes that could be laid at the door of Mugabe going back many years.

But the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction prior to 2002. But since then the Mugabe regime has been responsible, for example, for virtually the complete breakdown of the health system. This is costing lives, I’ve no doubt, as we speak.

ELEANOR HALL: Are you optimistic about this power-sharing arrangement between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, not really. It really seems to me as long as Mugabe’s on the scene it’s unlikely you’re going to get true democracy in Zimbabwe.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think that the international community should be taking greater steps against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I think a lot of steps have been taken. Sanctions have been imposed certainly by some countries. I’m disappointed that the Africa Union and African leaders have been so mute in this regard, and especially the leaders of my own country, South Africa.

I think a great deal more could have been done in Africa and that would be much more meaningful than pressure from the West.

ELEANOR HALL: Justice Goldstone, thanks very much for joining us.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Justice Richard Goldstone, a former judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, and a former international war crimes prosecutor.

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