Human rights are to be respected and protected by States through all appropriate measures, so goes the rhetoric. States must also make solutions available at domestic level to any citizen who claims his/her rights were violated. Individual victims of human rights violation also have the right to seek justice from regional or international institutions. In some countries such violations are committed grossly & systematically that the normal procedures through domestic justice appear to be not enough to address them.
Mostly, such systematic & gross violations of human rights are committed at state level for perceived end causes of, say, crushing opposition, sustaining absolute power and maintaining territorial integrity that involves cross border wars, although less common nowadays. The systematic genocide in Chile during the regime of Augusto Pinochet, in Uganda during the Id Amine regime, in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, and in Ethiopia during the Dergue regime were all orchestrated and executed at state levels.
One of the most significant developments made in the direction of dealing with mass grave human rights violations & fighting impunity was the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) pursuant to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted at a conference in Rome, on 17 July 1998. The Statute, entered in to force on 1 July 2002, resulted in the formation of the Court which is based in The Hague, Netherlands. Today a total of 121 countries are states parties to the Rome Statute. Out of them 33 are African states.
Governments, legal experts and civil society organizations have hailed the treaty as the most significant development in international law since the adoption of the United Nations Charter. ICC is entrusted with the power to prosecute those crimes which are considered to be of serious concern to the international community. These crimes are explicitly discussed under Article 5 of the Statute of the ICC as “genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.” Under the personal jurisdiction of the ICC, any perpetrator of such crimes should not escape the jurisdiction of the ICC using his/her political power as a shield.
Many argue that the establishment of the ICC is particularly advantageous for Africa not only as a means to strengthen existing mechanisms for combating gross human rights violations, where it happens all too often, but also in consolidating regional peace and security.
For the millions of victims of crimes against humanity worldwide, the ICC, controversial as it is, is a wonderful thing to have.
Time to join the league
Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Rome Statute. There are no evidences indicating Ethiopia’s part neither in the process, nor in the formation of the Statue either. Ironically though Ethiopia is one of the founding members of the UN and so far has a good track record in adopting many other international human rights treaties.
But there appears to be no clear answer to the question of why the ruling EPRDF, the only government in Ethiopia since the formation of the Court, decided to be absent from the membership of the ICC.
Ethnic and border conflicts, and crushing dissidents violently have been the hallmarks not only in Ethiopia but in most parts of Africa mostly in the past but also to some extent in the present. Rwanda lost close to one million of its people during the 1994 genocide; the conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan is claimed to have resulted in the death of a quarter of a million Sudanese; Sierra Leone, Burundi and Uganda all have their own gruesome tales of genocide at various degrees. Such experiences are exactly what the ICC claims it stands against.
Ethiopia is hailed as a country where different people having different religions and ethnic backgrounds coexist. But it also went through a number of destructive civil wars some born from ethnic and religious tensions and others born from political differences. The subsequent result of these conflicts has been gross violation of human rights. Although Ethiopia has adopted a federal system since the coming into power of the ruling EPRDF in 1991, some fear the potential for ethnic and religious conflicts in some pockets of the country as eminent.
Leaving aside the ever controversial status of countries to abide by the rules of the ICC, the sheer ethnic and political composition of Ethiopia makes the ratification of the Rome Statute by the government a necessity, not a choice.