The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said on Friday she would investigate crimes committed on both sides of Ivory Coast’s civil war and defended the court against its critics.
Fatou Bensouda said the court had to prioritise because it lacked the resources to pursue all potential cases at once, and cited Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, as an example of things not going as quickly as they might.
“Cote d’Ivoire is a case where my office has said from the very beginning that we will investigate on both sides of the conflict, that no one will be spared,” she said.
“The accusation is that we are only investigating on one side, and therefore this is victor’s justice and we don’t intend to investigate on the other side.”
A lack of funding was largely to blame for slow progress, she said.
The trial of ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo began in January, with prosecutors accusing him of orchestrating “unspeakable violence” to cling to power after losing an election, pitching his country into civil war.
But the court has come in for criticism, having handed down just two convictions, both of little-known African warlords, in its almost 14 year history.
Bensouda, who was speaking at the Graduate Institute in Geneva alongside U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said other challenges included accusations of “African bias” — that the ICC was only targeting African leaders.
Africa is the region with the most countries that belong to the ICC, and five African countries had requested the ICC to intervene in their situations, she said.
“I always say that in fact if you really look at the facts of how it happened and how these cases came to the ICC, I say Africa is going after the ICC. They requested ICC to come and not the other way round.”
Cases often got politicised and countries did not want to cooperate with the court, despite signing up to it.
“What we were seeing…is deliberate attempts not to support the work of the court, either by not providing the information we are requesting, or by delaying that information or pretending to give us the information when it is not there, and various other ways,” she said.
Zeid said the world was in “deep jeopardy” because of countries being too cowardly, timid and hypocritical to uphold the standards they had agreed to.
“If you do not stand up for the International Criminal Court, you might as well be standing next to the soldier raping the young girl in a conflict and do nothing, or standing next to someone who is being shot and being dismembered,” he said.
“Because it is almost the same thing. And so you make a choice. And the arguments levelled at Fatou Bensouda, against the court, are spurious at best and revolting at worst.”