From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
Ernest Bai Koroma & Luis Moreno Ocampo
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Mar 26, 2009, 17:23

Several decades ago when the late President Siaka Stevens ran this country as the then APC Leader, the world was not of such a global nature as it is right now. There was no Internet and no Aljazeera and no CNN and no BBC International TV or Sky Cable News. It could take up to months for news, photos and videos to get to Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora and to friends of Sierra Leone around the globe. Now, it takes just a few minutes on a personal computer to send quality video files and photographs to millions of interested people around the earth from Sierra Leone.

Luis Moreno Ocampo

There is another difference between now and back then. These days, unlike the days of Siaka Stevens, the world frowns heavily on human rights abuses and on crimes against humanity. In a bid to provide some protection for ordinary citizens around the globe, Leaders around the world have set up various forms of mechanisms and institutions to combat impunity in matters relating to crimes against humanity and gross human rights abuses including obvious threats to democracy.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is one such mechanism. The international community has long aspired to the creation of a permanent international court, and, in the 20th century, it reached consensus on definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. On 17 July 1998, the international community reached an historic milestone when 120 States adopted the Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the permanent International Criminal Court. The Rome Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002 after ratification by 60 countries.

The ICC is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although Acts of Aggression was originally included in its mandate, the precise definition of the term "Acts of Aggression" is yet to be complete so for now, the ICC is limited to only genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC is based on a treaty by 108 countries including Sierra Leone.

The ICC is a court of last resort. It will not act if a case is investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system unless the national proceedings are not genuine, for example if formal proceedings were undertaken solely to shield a person from criminal responsibility. Its seat is at The Hague in the Netherlands.

OFFICE OF THE PROSECUTOR
(Luis Moreno-Ocampo)

The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC is responsible for conducting investigations and prosecutions. It is headed by the Prosecutor, who is assisted by Deputy Prosecutors. The Rome Statute provides that the Office of the Prosecutor shall act independently. The Prosecutor may open an investigation under three circumstances:

when a situation is referred to him by a state party;

when a situation is referred to him by the United Nations Security Council, acting to address a threat to international peace and security; or

when the Pre-Trial Chamber authorises him to open an investigation on the basis of information received from other sources, such as individuals or NGOs.

At present, the Prosecutor is Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, who was elected by the Assembly of States Parties on 21 April 2003. The ICC explains how and when Luis Moreno-Ocampo may intervene and prosecute crimes by saying "Beyond geographic and temporal jurisdiction as defined under the Rome Statute, the main criterion is gravity. In assessing gravity, factors include: the scale of the crimes; their nature; the manner they were committed; and their impact."

The ICC goes on to explain that prosecuting of crimes especially those conducted by powerful State figures helps to end impunity and prevent future occurrences of such crimes.

Luis Moreno Ocampo is a very powerful man who recently issued a Warrant of Arrest for the sitting Head of State of Sudan, President Omar Al-Bashir. The warrant of arrest for Al Bashir lists seven counts on the basis of his individual criminal responsibility under Article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute as an indirect (co) perpetrator including:

• five counts of crimes against humanity: murder - Article 7(1)(a); extermination - Article 7(1)(b); forcible transfer - Article 7(1)(d); torture - Article 7(1)(f); and RAPE - Article 7(1)(g);
• two counts of war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking part in hostilities -Article 8(2)(e)(i); and pillaging - Article 8(2)(e)(v).

SIERRA LEONE’S
RECENT CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

What happened in Sierra Leone on March 16th 2009 is an act of aggression that the determined Women of Sierra Leone have said they will not allow to be swept under the carpet. Whilst the ICC is still yet to define what an act of Aggression is, the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1820 has already noted that RAPE and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide. In other words, the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo already has the full authority to bring to book, those accused of the egregious crime of gang-raping inside the SLPP Offices, should the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma fail to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the offenders. This is because UNSCR1820 makes it clear that an act of Rape is a War Crime and a Crime against Humanity; both of which fall under the purview of Moreno-Ocampo’s mandate.

Now, the ICC Treaty to which Sierra Leone has been a signatory from 17th October 1998 states that circumstances where the State is trying to shield a criminal from prosecution will clearly fall under the mandate of the Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. It also goes on to say that where investigations and judicial proceedings against such criminals are instituted as a smokescreen, the ICC can dismiss such judicial proceedings and institute its own investigations and actions.

The ICC, during its investigations, also has the mandate to ensure Victim participation and reparations as well as protect witnesses that it may use to prosecute criminals who are being shielded by their State Government. Article 43(6) of the Rome Statute establishes a Victims and Witnesses Unit to provide "protective measures and security arrangements, counseling and other appropriate assistance for witnesses, victims who appear before the Court, and others who are at risk on account of testimony given by such witnesses." whilst Article 68 sets out procedures for the "Protection of the victims and witnesses and their participation in the proceedings. The ICC itself has also established an Office of Public Counsel for Victims, to provide support and assistance to victims and their legal representatives. Article 79 of the Rome Statute establishes a Trust Fund to make financial reparations to victims and their families.

What all of this is saying in summary is that unlike the days of Siaka Stevens where the likes of assassins like the late notorious Abayomi Rashid (aka ‘Highway’) could easily get away with murder and raping of political opponents, in today’s world, Presidents who abuse their powers to violently suppress and rape their citizens have the likes of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo acting as a stop measure against such acts of impunity.

Therefore, whilst sober heads are advising President Ernest Bai Koroma to step up to the occasion, seize the day and genuinely prosecute the perpetrators of what occurred at the Opposition HQs under his watch, the hawks and ne’er-do-wells around President Ernest Koroma are fooling him that the genuine advisers are "dissidents" whose advise he should ignore. They are telling him to stamp harder on his opponents and some are even urging him to push further and disgrace himself and his Government more than it has already been disgraced in the eyes of the whole wide world.

But what Ernest Bai Koroma should realise is that there is a limit to what even his good friend Tony Blair can do for him in the world today. President Robert Mugabe was once the darling of the West. Where is he today?

Finally, to those who are saying the International Community means nothing to Sierra Leone, I leave them with the words of David Carew, the former Finance Minister who recently virtually crawled on his fours as he ‘begged the donors to keep up to their budgetary promises’ so Sierra Leone could see to its budgetary needs and function as a State.

Ernest Bai Koroma, don’t allow the hawks around you to lead you to Luis Moreno Ocampo. As you can see from the indictment of your colleague African President, if Luis Moreno Ocampo has enough suspicion to believe that the invasion of the Opposition Headquarters was State sanctioned by your authority, you might soon find yourself alongside Al-Bashir as a Wanted Criminal.

I do not hate you as the likes of Sheka Tarawalie will want you to believe. This is a genuine advise from your newest ‘dissident’ in the land. Do the right thing for your people. Treat the aggressive invasion of the Opposition Headquarters with the seriousness it deserves. I am quite sure that President Al-Bashir himself did not RAPE any Sudanese woman but he is now charged with RAPE as an instrument he allegedly used against his political opponents in Sudan.

Krioman say LONTA! Over to Mister President!



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