Mon | Jun 17, 2019

Editorial | What’s Jamaica’s problem with ICC?

Published:Wednesday | April 10, 2019 | 12:17 AM

Last September, this newspaper drew attention to Jamaica’s failure, despite being one of the early signatories, to ratify the Rome Statute that, 17 years ago, established the International Criminal Court (ICC). So, Jamaica is still not a member of the court.

There is no indication from the Holness administration if and when it intends to ratify the agreement. It remains silent on the matter. The last time a Jamaican official spoke publicly on the matter was in 2015 when Mark Golding, the justice minister in the then People’s National Party government, claimed that legislation was being fast-tracked to facilitate Jamaica’s accession to the ICC, which was established to hold to account persons who commit the grossest forms of human-rights violations when states are unable to do so. The court has more than 120 members.

The reason why we again highlight this country’s ICC lethargy is essentially the same as six months ago – America’s threat against the court. Except that this time, Donald Trump’s administration has moved from threat to action.

Last week, the State Department revoked the personal visa for the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, although it said that Ms Bensouda would be allowed entry for official business at the United Nations headquarters.

Ms Bensouda’s offence is that she has instigated an investigation into possible war crimes by forces engaged in Afghanistan’s long, and ongoing, war. These include Afghan government forces and international coalition soldiers, including American troops and their commanders.

“The United States will take the necessary steps to protect its sovereignty from unjust investigations and prosecution by the International Criminal Court,” the State Department said.

Ms Bensouda, a Gambian, has said that America’s action won’t prevent her office from continuing its duties “without fear or favour”. Jamaica has an interest in ensuring that that is the case, given the principles of human rights for which Prime Minister Andrew Holness often professes, as did his predecessors.

The ICC claims the right to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in circumstances where national courts are either too weak, lack the expertise, or are unwilling to do so. Cases can also be referred to it by the United Nations (UN) Security Council.

AFRAID OF SOMETHING?

Like Jamaica, the United States, during the Clinton administration, signed the Rome Statute. But unlike Jamaica, which pays lip service to the court, successive US administrations have made it clear that they want no further part of the ICC and they won’t ratify the treaty.

This idea that some crimes are so heinous that they stand above all others, and are in need of a fallback institution to ensure their prosecution when no other exists, or fails, isn’t alien to the Americans. It is essentially the same concept that underpinned Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

The universality of justice and its delivery is well ingrained in the jurisprudential doctrine of Jamaica and its Caribbean Community partners. A.N.R. Robinson, the late Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, revived the idea of an international court at the UN in 1989, which led to the creation of the ICC.

Patrick Robinson, the Jamaican who is a member of the International Court of Justice, sat in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that heard the war crime cases from the Balkan wars. Justice Robinson presided over that of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Dennis Byron, the St Kitts-Nevis judge who served as president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, headed the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda that tried people for that country’s genocide 25 years ago.

As Rwandans mark that dark period of their history, Jamaica, as a clear signal that no one is above justice, or has the right to behave with impunity, and as a declaration of its commitment to multilateralism, should ratify the Rome Statute. Unless we are afraid of something.