Recently there was an interesting exchange of opinion in the International herald tribune regarding the recent arrest warrant, issued by the International Criminal Court against top rebel leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, “shadowy group that has been terrorizing northern Uganda for 19 years”. Arguably, such arrest warrants are likely to alienate these leaders and make them ‘go back to the bushes’ and abandon the participation in the preparation of peace accords between the above mentioned rebel group and the Ugandan Government.
Richard Goldstone, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, former Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, wrote an opinion article that was strongly in favour of international justice (vis-à-vis peace). He argues that as far as short term consequences there might be some cost but that in the long term perspective ICC involvement is for the good of peace in the world. Katherine Southwick, a US lawyer and a long term researcher in Uganda is strongly against the arrest warrant of the ICC, that she regards as irresponsible. Ms. Southwick says that ICC became an “obstacle to what International Crisis Group called ‘the best opportunity for peace that northern Uganda has had since the war began’”.
This discussion is interesting and it brings one necessarily to question to incremental validity of International tribunals and international justice. Namely, is international justice too blind? Is political responsibility, knowledge and emotional link with a particular political and social context, a necessary element of an adequate system of justice? Thus, are only national courts endowed with a sensibility, and ultimately political responsibility, that allows them to measure carefully before they make a move, such as take judicial action against leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in such a particularly sensitive moment for Uganda’s peace.
I cannot offer a definite position on this issue. Some time ago, in the Serbian political context I wrote an article for a publication of the Italian “Mulino”, in which I criticized the legal action of the Prosecutor of ICTY who always made secret indictments public in sensitive political moments in Serbia. I must say that I revaluated my position to a certain extent. Hence, one could say that if international justice is backed up by certain mechanisms in which the international community manages to balance the negative effects of the pursuit of that justice, then the legal action is justified. In the case of Serbia, this accompanying moves include ‘carrots’ of financial aid and potential EU membership for the country, in Uganda, on the other hand there is very little on offer and it is rather dubious if the goal of international justice is ‘worth more’ than the achievement of a pragmatic peace-deal in the country.