Why Egypt should join the ICC

Ziad Abdel Tawab   في الجمعة 15 ابريل 2011



When I participated as an NGO observer in the negotiations and deliberations of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) review conference in Kampala, Uganda in June 2010, I wondered if one day I could see Egypt play a leading role to ensure international justice. Would Egypt one day distance itself from the worst oppressors of human rights law and promote the need for a just and sound world order? Nine months ago, that seemed to be a far-fetched dream. Egypt along the world’s most infamous oppressors of human rights — Israel, Iran, China, the United States, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Russia — had worked to ensure impunity for their national or international criminal acts. While more than two-thirds of UN member states signed and ratified the Rome Statute (the treaty establishing the ICC), these above-mentioned countries remained hostile to its ratification.

One of underlying messages of the 2011 Egyptian revolution concerns the need for Egypt to establish and respect the rule of law. During the past six decades, successive Egyptian governments made a mockery of accountability and the rule of law. The judiciary as well as laws themselves were constantly undermined, whether publicly or behind the scenes. One regime after another was hostile to any form of international accountability for its crimes. Under Mubarak, the government has portrayed international accountability as a means of Western imperial interference in Egypt’s sovereign national affairs. That’s why thousands of Egyptian civilians who dared oppose Mubarak were taken to unknown detention centers where they were held incommunicado for years, tortured and in some cases, as we saw during the revolution, executed in cold blood in the streets. In the absence of a sound accountability system, Mubarak and his oligarchy were certain to evade punishment.
Over the past few years, large-scale human rights abuses in Gaza, Tunis, Baghdad, Damascus, Manama and Tripoli have demonstrated that, absent a strong global institution to ensure minimum standards of justice, violations go unpunished and state authorities are encouraged to escalate their outrageous crimes. The ICC is not meant to ignore or substitute national courts and legislation. Rather, it conducts investigations in countries where national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute gross human rights violations (i.e. in cases where a state fails to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations due to a lack of capacity or political will) or where impunity is unabated because of legal or structural hurdles that hinder the effective prosecution of the perpetrators involved in serious crimes under international law. As such, the ICC can be referred to as a means of last resort, like Egypt’s national Court of Cassation.
We have learned from experience that only those regimes with crimes to hide refuse to ratify the Rome Statute. The only means to guarantee those brave women and men who took to the streets on 25 January that Egypt will never again return to the dark era of oppression is to send a clear signal that we have no crimes to cover: All crimes committed will be prosecuted on a national level.
Ratifying the Rome Statute would mean that all systematic or widespread violations will be prosecuted. This includes, but is not limited to, acts of murder, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and the infliction of serious injury to people’s mental and physical health. The ICC’s jurisdiction even extends to all crimes committed by foreign troops on Egyptian soil, including crimes committed by an occupying force in the case of war.
At present, the parallel pursuit of justice and stability is a challenge in Egypt. The 8 April million-strong march was an indicator that stability will not be achieved in Egypt unless all alleged perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice. A long-lasting stability requires Egyptians to be certain that never again will such crimes would go unpunished. Egypt is learning its lesson the hard way. The sooner Egypt dissociates itself with the worst human rights perpetrators of the past, the sooner it will achieve national stability and political and economic prosperity. Towards this end, the ratification of the Rome Statute can be a crucial first step.

Ziad Abdel Tawab  is an International Advocacy Adviser to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and a member of its board of directors. He has previously served in several national and international research institutes and worked for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan as a Human Rights Officer stationed in Darfur

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