Rob Williams, chief executive of War Child UK responds to an article from Lord Alton of Liverpool, calling for Joseph Kony and members of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) to be brought to justice.
As a mechanism for curtailing murderous campaigns, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a distinct disappointment. There is little evidence that being indicted by the court leads to anything more than a contemptuous snort from those engaged in hunting down and killing innocent people. Sure, there have been successes - there were cheers in the War Child office when Thomas Lubanga was convicted of crimes against children earlier this year. But whether or not an indictment leads to an arrest is most often a matter of convenience for the states concerned.
Where arrest would be inconvenient the ICC's ability to enforce its writ is severely constrained, not least because only two of the five permanent members of the Security Council (France and the UK) are actually States Parties to the Rome Statute which established the court in 2002. This is a court without a police force. And in president Bashir's case the court is further undermined by the fact that Sudan has not placed itself within the court's jurisdiction. The enormous profits to be made from doing business with Sudan and its oil reserves make it unlikely that the indictment of president Bashir will get much attention from any western power which might have some economic traction with the government in Khartoum.
Once the weaknesses of the ICC are exposed, it becomes clear that it should not be judged on whether an indictment leads to an immediate cessation of criminal behaviour. Its purpose is to clearly identify behaviour that is so beyond the acceptable range that international legal structures start to take an interest and to unravel the culture of impunity that allows appalling acts to go unchallenged and unpunished.
Once the ICC has done that, it is up to individual government to decide how they will respond. Lord Alton should be roundly applauded for pointing out that the UK government response to this indictment is at odds with our much trumpeted sponsorship of the ICC.
The case of Kony is much more straightforward. I can't see any national interest in enabling Kony to continue to roam the forests of Central Africa. The problem here is that richer nations do not see much national interest in stopping him either. Kony can seem like a small distraction in the world's major capitals, as they grapple with the consequences of the Arab Spring and the euro crisis. Kony 2012, Lord Alton, War Child and all those campaigning to keep children and families safe in Central Africa will one day tip the balance of convenience and get some concerted action for peace in this region. When that day comes, the actions need to be much bigger than arresting a small number of high profile killers. Real peace depends on major investments in education, livelihoods, and community development. And that will take time. Right now the Department for International Development (DfID) does not even have a budget line for the Central African Republic, where the LRA continue to terrorise the local population. This may not be the last time that Lord Alton has to ask a pointed question about this in the House of Lords.