Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to correct an imbalance in its investigations and prosecutions of war crimes and human rights violations. In a 50-page publication titled "Unfinished Business" [report, text; press release], HRW assessed the choice of cases made by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) [official website] in its first five investigations, claiming that the resulting prosecutions do not go "far enough to ensure that justice delivered by the ICC will resonate with concerns of victims and affected communities." The court's jurisdiction may be triggered in one of three ways—state parties or the UN Security Council [official website] can refer a specific set of events termed a "situation" to the ICC prosecutor, or the OTP can seek on his own motion authorization by a pre-trial chamber of ICC judges to open an investigation. Based on HRW country expertise and close monitoring of the ICC over the past eight years, the report concludes that to safeguard the ICC's independence and impartiality, the OTP needs to investigate and bring to trial individuals responsible for some of the world's gravest crimes, especially government officials. For example, in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ICC investigations have targeted rebel groups but have not yielded charges against government officials and armed forces widely alleged to have committed serious human rights abuses. Without such prosecutions, or clear and public explanations as to why they are not being pursued, the ICC's perceived independence and impartiality is undermined worldwide. The report goes on to state that this is a critical time to correct such perceptions through new investigations, as ICC member states will elect a new prosecutor in December. The current ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile], was elected to a nine-year term in 2003. The HRW report was prepared by Elizabeth Evenson [official profile], senior counsel in the humanitarian group's International Justice Program.
The ICC is the world's first permanent court mandated to bring to justice perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The ICC treaty, known as the Rome Statute, entered into force in 2002, four years after 120 states adopted it during the Rome Conference. This month Ocampo announced that he is seeking assistance [JURIST report] from INTERPOL [official website] to locate and arrest former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], as the ICC has issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for Gaddafi, his son and his brother-in-law for alleged crimes against humanity. Also this month the court began hearings in Kenya's post-election violence cases against the "Ocampo Six" [JURIST reports] for incitement of violence during and after the 2007 Kenyan elections. The HRW report called these investigations into Kenyan government officials a "welcomed shift from past practice" and a "marked contrast to Congo" where prosecution delays inadvertently may have actually worsened ethnic tensions. However, it is notable that last month the ICC did conclude its first war crimes trial [JURIST report] with the prosecution of a Congo militia leader charged with enlisting child soldiers into his militia, one which is believed to have committed large-scale human rights abuses in DRC's violent Ituri district. A verdict in the case is expected in early 2012. In addition to the African investigations in Congo, northern Uganda, Libya and Kenya, along with others in the Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, the OTP is looking at situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Nigeria and South Korea. The Palestinian National Authority also has petitioned the ICC prosecutor to accept jurisdiction over alleged crimes in Gaza.