Marking a good day for international justice

Recent actions have proven enormously beneficial to international justice. Within a few days of one another, two global pariahs were convicted of war crimes for actions in previous conflicts. Additionally, records assisting victims of the Holocaust have reached a milestone.

On Monday, March 21, 2016, the International Criminal Court broke new ground. It convicted Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice president of the Congo, for crimes carried out in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. The charges included using rape as a tool of war, the first time that the court has found someone guilty of using sexual violence.

The ICC found that Bemba directed troops across the border to prevent a coup, giving orders that anyone found in the combat zone should be considered an enemy. Amnesty International hailed the ruling, stating that it sends the message that impunity for sexual violence as a tactic of conflict will not be tolerated.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Just three days later, on March 24, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Karazdic was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in ethnic cleansing, the siege of Sarajevo, and the targeted killing of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.

He is the most senior Bosnian Serb leader prosecuted to date, as former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died during his trial in 2006. NATO airstrikes carried out on behalf of Bosnian Muslims forced Serbia to sign the 1995 Dayton Accords, ending the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II.

Against the specter of people forgetting acts of genocide comes the news from the World Memory Project that the free online database of information about Holocaust victims and survivors just exceeded 1 million records. The project started in 2011 as a partnership between the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and genealogy website Ancestry.com. The project has been assisted by 3,500 volunteers in 18 nations.

There is still criticism of the ICC coming from some quarters. For example, the United States signed, but refused to ratify, the treaty creating the ICC. This furnished cover to nations such as China and India, which similarly opposed the ICC’s mission, and at the same time forced Japan to assume as much as one-fifth of the ICC budget.

Another accusation against the ICC is that it is fixated with African leaders’ wrongdoing to the exclusion of others’. While the majority of active cases involve African officials, it should be noted that a plethora of ad-hoc war crimes tribunals have been established elsewhere — including those in Lebanon, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia.

In proposing solutions for instances of genocide, there are the usual suggestions of prevention and punishment. However, there should be a focus on cultural awareness and messaging, just as there is continued emphasis on alliances and international organizations.

Today, Reformation Lutheran Church in Milford, 613 Lakeview Ave., will commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States in an interfaith service beginning at 7:30 p.m. Though words and music, victims of seven previous and current cases of genocide will be remembered. A reception will follow the event. This activity is free and open to the public.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University. He previously served on the Board of Direction for the United Nations Association of the United States of America-Delaware Division. Dr. Hoff will provide an overview of the genocide topic at tonight’s event.

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