The Future of the ICC and Justice

It’s an interesting time to be watching the ICC. Last month, Gabon surprised many by referring a situation to the Court, potentially opening up another investigation on the continent. But in the last week South Africa, Burundi, and The Gambia have all officially withdrawn from the Court, throwing the entire institution into question as the collapse of African support for the ICC is manifested after years of erosion.

I don’t have too many hot takes right now, but do want to note both the obvious importance of such ongoing events, but also flag the long and thorough critiques of the ICC’s structure and capabilities. The ICC as an institution rests on state compliance and participation, and so the withdrawal of these three African countries – particularly the unexpected decision by South Africa – will have a big impact, especially if they herald a larger exodus. At the same time, the type of justice that the ICC offers is a narrow and specific one. If the ICC is indeed crumbling, it is not the end of justice. It may even be a new beginning. That said, the ICC continues to have its hand in many pots. The trial of Dominic Ongwen is set to begin in January, and will be a place to watch for what types of justice might be offered by the ICC.

For now, though, a brief link roundup.

Kate Cronin-Furman and Stephanie Schwartz have a good write-up on what Burundi and South Africa’s withdrawal means in light of the continent as a whole. Burundi’s withdrawal was almost expected, and the reasons for it are clear. The case of South Africa is a little harder to discern:

As anti-ICC sentiments have hardened within the A.U., South Africa has struggled to balance its role as a regional leader with its ambitions as an emerging global power. One read of the situation is that the withdrawal is less about South Africa’s relationship with the court than it is about its view of itself vis-à-vis the rest of the continent. If, in fact, a mass walkout is imminent, South Africa would prefer to lead the movement rather than follow others.

Mark Kersten agrees with this analysis, but doesn’t think a mass walkout is in order – though a few states may follow suit. In his post, Kersten also takes a hard look at the domestic political situation in South Africa, which is worth perusing. In the end, as always, we’ll have to watch this play out and see how the chips fall. The ICC is a robust institution, but its record is shaky and its reliance on state participation means every state that leaves weakens it little by little. But it’s never had the overt support of powerful states like the U.S., China, Russia, etc. – arguably a bigger obstacle to any effort at establishing global justice norms.

It’s this reliance on states that renders the ICC ineffective from the start. While many criticisms of the ICC are about bias, the power inequities of the global stage as well as who has signed the Rome Statute and who has not create an inherent bias – an inherent impunity. As Samar Al-Bulushi notes:

From the protection of victims and witnesses to the apprehension of suspects, the ICC’s operational reliance on powerful states ensures that individuals from those states will largely escape scrutiny, and that the Court’s decisions are often far removed from the very people it was designed to protect.

[…]

The ICC and its more prominent supporters, much like proponents of the “responsibility to protect,” generally lead us to believe that the Court is the answer to impunity, as though the law were divorced from politics, and as though “peace” and “justice” can simply be delivered at the push of a button.

Yet the ICC is an institution located within a larger architecture of power that endows some crimes and some victims with legitimacy, and not others. At the same time, its “responsibility to punish” is subject to political manipulation that allows for further exception and impunity.

This last point is why, regardless of what happens to the ICC, justice will have to be found elsewhere. The ICC will continue to receive referrals and investigate conflicts, it will even issue warrants and charges and try those it is able to get to The Hague. But even if these withdrawals didn’t happen, the ICC’s crippling reliance on member states – and the refusal of human rights-abusive states like Syria or Sudan, Israel or the U.S. to even join the Court – mean the ICC would still face be biased not only in where it chose to investigate, but where it even could investigate legally. What justice is there if some will never even be investigated?

So let’s not conflate justice with international criminal justice. As Kamari Clarke writes in Fictions of Justice, “it is limiting to assume that ‘the law’ – rule of law, criminal law, national law – is the only way that justice can be achieved, especially because justice itself is not a thing but a set of relations through which people establish norms of acceptability” (147). Western liberal legal norms at the international level are certainly not the only place where people can be held accountable, guilt can be attributed, responsibility meted out, and reconciliation fostered. The ICC is one place where some of this can happen, sometimes, for some people. What happens to the ICC matters, but we can and should imagine justice happening outside of The Hague. The withdrawal of these three countries should be taken seriously not only for its potential consequences for the ICC, but also as a signal to think beyond the ICC, as Al-Bulushi urges.

Contemporary Art/South Africa

 

"Contemporary Art/South Africa," Yale University Art Gallery

“Contemporary Art / South Africa,” Yale University Art Gallery

There’s an exhibition of contemporary art from South Africa running all summer at the Yale Art Gallery, and I think you should come over here and see it. Curated by a group of students from various disciplines, it explores a combination of ideas through contemporary art and South Africa.

The exhibition focuses in on three bisected themes, drawing attention to connections and separations of those themes and looking at South African history as well as art. These themes are the personal and the social, art and politics, and “here” and “there.” It includes established South African artists as well as some seldom seen outside of the continent.

I’ve put a couple of photos, links, and thoughts below the cut. I’d encourage you to come see the whole exhibition if this type of thing interests you and you’re in the area. It will run through September 14, although one video installation (Subotzky’s) will be taken down s
Continue reading

Shameless Self-Promotion: At the Fair Observer

I was recently tasked with writing about the Justine Sacco issue, what it says about our perception of Africa, and any lessons learned from the debacle. I tried to stick to the prompt, but went instead towards what people thought about when the hubbub occurred, and what they should have thought about:

AIDS does discriminate by race. It does this because our societies allow it to. Sacco’s joke is a joke precisely because it is true: being white means she probably will not get AIDS. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS for blacks in South Africa was 13.6% in 2008. For whites it was 0.3%. While the conversation rightly lambasted Sacco for a stupid, awful joke – the discussion should also turn to why the AIDS crisis has unfolded the way that it has.

South African history, like much of African history, is fraught with racism that resulted in real damage to black lives and livelihoods. South Africa’s AIDS epidemic exists partially because of what colonialism and apartheid did to South African livelihoods — that much is clear.

 

Read the rest at Fair Observer.

On Mandela

Things worth reading:

“Icon of Peaceful Resistance” makes it sound like Mandela was an advocate and practitioner of nonviolence. He wasn’t. Apartheid was above all a socioeconomic system of structured viciousness: the whites were not going to give up their advantages without a fight. The struggle against Apartheid was necessarily bloody. The symbolic force of an “icon”, no matter how noble its martyrdom, could not have defeated Apartheid. It had to be defeated at the cost of lives. Mandela always knew this.

Mandela founded and ran Umkhonto we Sizwe, the paramilitary wing of the ANC, which carried out armed resistance and a bombing campaign. The bombings mostly targeted high-profile pieces of property, but were nevertheless responsible for many civilian deaths. Umkhonto we Sizwe also executed collaborators.

When you say, “He was a great statesman”, credit what that means. It means that he looked ahead, kept his eyes on the prize, and tried to do what needed doing, whether that meant taking up arms, or playing chess, or making a friendly connection with a potentially friendly jailer. If you’re going to say it, then credit first that there might be great leaders (and great movements) where you right now see only terrorism or revolution or disorder. That so many people were wrong about Mandela should at least allow for that much.

[…]

Our political leaders (and South Africa’s, too) have no vision beyond the next re-election and their retinues of pundits and experts and appointees are happy to compliment and flatter the vast expanses of their nakedness in return for a share of the spoils.

Mourn the statesman and the revolutionary and the terrorist and the neoliberal and the ethicist and the pragmatist and the saint and don’t you dare try to discard or remove any part of that whole. Celebrate him? Sure, but then make sure you’re willing to consider emulating him.

Reading World War Z

In what is both a moment of procrastination (I don’t want to do homework) and an act of slight progress (I’m finally clearing out some of my blog drafts), I present an unpolished, never-quite-finished essay on the novel World War Z by Max Brooks. I started this thing almost a year ago, but don’t see myself working on it anymore. Might as well let you read it. Note that I have yet to watch the film adaptation, this is meant to be a reading of (specific parts of) the book.

World War Z is not a typical zombie story.  For one thing, the book is “written” in the aftermath of the conflict, and while some segments tell what happened during the zombie outbreak, there is a significant portion that deals with how humans were responding to the consequences of it all, after the war.  The book includes scenes of workers patrolling the arctic circle for thawing zombies and towns rebuilding after being cleared of the undead.  In addition, the novel is an effort to tell the story of the whole world rather than a region (like southern Georgia in The Walking Dead), a mall (Dawn of the Dead), or an individual (Robert Neville of I Am Legend).  It does this by framing itself as an oral history, a compendium of interviews conducted by a U.N. worker.

But oral history isn’t the same as history.  At its core, oral history isn’t so much the study of evidence but a study of memory.  World War Z isn’t a historiography of the zombie war so much as it is a glimpse at how survivors remembered the war.  Above all, since it is fictitiously compiled by an “author” (the U.N. worker) and also actually compiled by an author (Brooks), it is a collection of memories that Brooks thought best represented a history of his war – and a history of the world.  The story isn’t about the characters really (some interviewees reappear in the conclusion, but I had to go back to piece together who was who – there is little actual character development) so much as it is about the countries that deal with zombies and the notion of the global zombie war itself.

In an interview about the book, Brooks stated that “everything in World War Z (as in The Zombie Survival Guide) is based in reality… well, except the zombies. But seriously, everything else in the book is either taken from reality or 100% real.”  Adding zombies to reality, then, allowed Brooks to show what he thought of the world through its response to catastrophe, its governance, its resilience.  In another interview, Brooks called the book an effort to combat American isolationism and argued that he wanted to “break down the stereotypes Americans have about other cultures… and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations.”

But how did Brooks choose to represent the world?

Brooks’ decision to shed light on the outside world, if taken seriously as an attempt to enlighten us where our isolationism has sold us short, rests on the same old stereotypes and dangerous whitewashing that he proposes to combat.  A number of societies are portrayed in one or two short segments that are more about applying the zombie war to our preconceived notions than about opening a window to new cultures.  For example, the only two Japanese characters interviewed are a young, cyber-connected loner and an old, blind, traditional warrior.  North Korea is portrayed as an isolated and paranoid mystery.  South Africa’s role is framed solely by its apartheid history.  Iran takes the position of America’s greatest fear: the trigger-happy nuclear power.  The story’s structure doesn’t lend itself to much in terms of developing a more nuanced look at cultures or politics around the world, so this is your only glimpse at some societies.

Where foreign affairs don’t rely on stereotypes, they rest on a scary depiction of the “real world.”  The two countries that lead the world out of the zombie war are South Africa and Israel, two countries with infamous histories of dealing with actual hungry and helpless masses within their own borders.  Both countries have experienced decades of forced segregation that leave a significant part of the population isolated, oppressed, dying.  In portraying the world through the zombie war, it is implicit that these histories – of segregation, oppression, and degradation – are the reason that these countries manage to weather the storm of zombie infestation better than others. Continue reading

The Modern City

On the bus ride up country yesterday, I read a comment in The Daily Monitor about Gulu municipality’s efforts to claim city status. Gulu town itself is about 150,000 people, but some on the municipal council are trying to incorporate nearby communities to bring the population closer to the 500,000 threshold to achieve city status. The change would give the town more space but also access to more resources. The short comment in the Monitor noted that:

Gulu Mayor George Labeha… has ordered the demolition of grass-thatched housing in Layibi and Laroo divisions as the municipality works towards gaining city status. “Not all residents will be affected, we are targeting areas such as Cereleno, Industrial Area and Limo Sub-ward.” Of course the decision did not go well with some residents, who argue that grass-thatched huts are part of their culture, and development will not force them to abandon them. They added that some of them cannot afford to buy iron sheets.

On the way into town, I saw decent-sized parts of town that are still comprised of grass-thatched huts. The notion that they would have to be destroyed before Gulu could claim city status is a difficult one to accept. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I haven’t seen many (any?) traditional huts in Kampala, despite seeing plenty of informal settlements like shacks and shipping containers. I don’t know how other African cities are, but it sends the message that, in a city, you can have modern poverty, but can’t have homes that are seen to contradict what most think of as “modern.”

Replica of an Acholi house at the Uganda Museum.

Replica of an Acholi house at the Uganda Museum.

It reminded me of my friend Camille’s talk on slum tourism in South Africa (I live-tweeted pieces of it). During the question-and-answer segment after her talk, someone asked how depictions of townships as authentic Africa influenced African perceptions. She responded that, when asked where “the real Africa” was, whites often referenced the townships while blacks pointed to the rural homelands. From what I’ve seen in Kampala and Kigali and Cairo, cities can be African, but this news from Gulu seems to say that one aspect of being African is not compatible with being a city.

That’s not to say that housing that isn’t a hut isn’t African, just that these houses are also African, and all types of housing should be acceptable for a city such as Gulu. I hope that the municipality can find a way to develop into a city, if that’s what is wanted, without shedding the grass-thatched housing elements of the town.

Book Recommendations – South African Edition

So, my online presence has been a bit quiet. Weekend readings and occasional tweets are still outgoing, but not much else. My first semester of grad school has come and gone, and the last few weeks have been spent polishing off two term papers, preparing proposals for my thesis, studying for a language final, and moving Henry James books around at the library. Now that all of that’s done, I wanted to recommend some of the many books I still have stacked on my windowsill.

For a South African history course, I wrote a term paper looking at how anti-Apartheid activists used their own trials as platforms to criticize the government. I concentrated on Nelson Mandela’s trials (when caught in hiding and then in the Rivonia Trial) and Steve Biko’s testimony in the Black Consciousness Trial, but found other examples too. I spent some time looking at court records on microfilm – like an old school historian – but these are a few of the more helpful books on the subject of trials during apartheid:

  • Donald Woods’ Biko is a great book for all things Steve Biko. A journalist and friend of Biko’s, Woods includes lengthy excerpts from Biko’s five-days-long testimony in the Black Consciousness trial which I’ve come to rely on. An alternative to this is Millard Arnold’s complete transcript of the trial, although it’s hard to find.
  • Michael Lobban’s White Man’s Justice, while not specifically addressing my topic, is a really good resource on how the apartheid state used trials to legitimate oppression.
  • Joel Joffe’s The State vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial That Changed South Africa is a good account of the Rivonia Trial, on which Joffe served as an assistant counsel to the defense. His writing style isn’t the best, and he jumps back and forth from trial transcripts to his own narration without much notice, which can be frustrating if you’re doing research.
  • Mary Benson edited a collection of speeches given by activists in The Sun Will Rise: Statements from the Dock by Southern African Political Prisoners, which includes several statements I used in my paper in addition to other really interesting excerpts.

Another term paper I did was on the symbol of land and territory as a founding myth for South Africa. It was for my first ever sociology course, and I chose to look at South African history and the founding myth that Afrikaners had crafted. I used a lot of articles (by du Toit on the role of Calvinism, Templin on the Great Trek, and Marschall on monuments), but these books came in handy as well:

but nonetheless I’ve found these texts to be really helpful:

  • T. Dunbar Moodie’s The Rise of Afrikanerdom utilizes the sociological concept of a civil religion, and in this book he paints a clear picture of the role of the Boers’ Calvinist religion in their nationalism throughout the early twentieth century.
  • Leonard Thompson’s The Political Mythology of Apartheid examines the concept pretty thoroughly, looking at the history of the Great Trek and its place at the center of Afrikaner nationalism. It does a good job of looking at how this came about and when.
  • Another helpful text is Donald Harman Akenson’s God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster. It compares the prominence of a covenant with God in the narratives of the Afrikaners in South Africa, the Zionists in Israel, and the Protestants in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t say much that Moodie and Thompson don’t already explain, but it’s a great comparative look.
  • The Frightened Land: Land, Landscape and Politics in South Africa in the Twentieth Century by Jennifer Beningfield was a great resource. Required reading for the history course mentioned above, it’s a really innovative look at how apartheid changed the actual landscape of South Africa. For this paper, the chapter on the Voortrekker Monument was essential – the whole book is well-worth a read.

And those are my recommended readings on South Africa. Hopefully someone finds these recommendations helpful. With the end of the semester, you should see more of me over the winter reprieve from school. While I might be done with these papers, I’d love any additions – feel free to comment if you know of other resources on these topics.

Silencing Propaganda: When Art and Speech Become Violent

Last week, my history class discussed the death of Thami Mnyele, a South African anti-apartheid activist and artist who was killed in an attack by South African forces in Botswana. Mnyele, the subject of a biography by Diana Wylie (which was our reading for class), was a South African artist whose works went from emotional depictions of oppression under Apartheid to campaign posters as a part of the Medu Art Ensemble. He was also an anti-apartheid activist influenced by Black Consciousness and was a part of the ANC’s militant wing. Despite not being a high-level ANC leader, Mnyele was killed as a part of South Africa’s famous raid on Gaborone in 1985, when South African soldiers crossed into Botswana in the middle of the night to attack a number of ANC safe houses.

My professor told us to ignore his militant side and asked what it meant to consider whether or not his murder was legal. What it meant to even think about saying it was okay to go across borders to kill an activist. I pointed out that it gives credence to South Africa’s argument that propaganda is violent. But I didn’t say that because I thought the government was wrong – propaganda can definitely be just as violent as a gun or a bomb – words and images have power. I was merely pointing out that contemplating whether or not crossing borders to kill activists is okay implies that it could be. But I suppose the real question is, at what point is it okay to silence that speech? And back to my professor’s point, what does it mean to consider that as an option?

Looking at Mnyele’s art (Wylie’s book is replete with images), my mind kept coming back to Aaron Bady’s recent ruminations on free speech and its place in America. In looking for the line between speech and violence, he argues:

My point is not that any of this is or isn’t legitimate; some forms of speech are odious, and if the state has a right to prohibit, criminalize, and punish “violence,” then criminalizing speech is just one of those things it’s going to do, and does. But the difference between behaviors which are prohibited and those which are protected has nothing to do with the red line between speech and violence, and never has, because  no such line exists.

We’ve been dealing with this a lot, be it freedom to camp in parks as expression or right to post other people’s photographs online. To what extent is expression or speech or art okay, and to what extent does it need to be silenced by censorship, arrest, or even murder? At what point is shooting up an Obama campaign sign or tweeting that #AGoodJew is #ADeadJew something that must be stopped? And at the more extreme end, at what point does anti-state speech warrant assassination? Mnyele was clearly an enemy of the South African government – he was actively opposed to its rule, and worked against it – militarily, yes, but primarily through art and recruitment. Similarly, Anwar al-Awlaki was allegedly involved in planning some terror attacks, but his true value to al Qaeda lie in his ability to preach and recruit for the cause; Samir Khan was an editor for a magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Like Mnyele, neither were high level operatives, but both were effective recruiters through propaganda. Both were American citizens killed by a drone strike in Yemen without due process, solely because of the threat their speech possessed.

In light of the drone strike, the questions mentioned before have been flipped around. Because Apartheid = Bad, and America = Good, al Awlaki’s death is made to seem okay. Instead, people are left to debate what it means to even consider that killing him was wrong. People who raise his rights as an American citizen and point to his low-threat position in militant operations are shunned in the name of national security. “But he was al Qaeda.” But what does it mean to consider that this killing is okay? Again, it means that you’re giving credence to the state’s assertion that preaching and publishing warrants death. And again, it’s not that recruiting through speech and expression can’t have negative effects – it’s that we haven’t been able to find the point at which it’s okay (and as a result, find the point at which it’s not okay) to silence our opposition. And this is because, perhaps like the line between speech and violence – it doesn’t exist. The state will always weild its right to crack down on its enemies, we just have to wait and see who falls into what category. The government will decide who falls into the category threatening enough to put a name on a list. That’s how Mnyele was targeted, and that’s how Khan and al Awlaki were targeted.

But because that wasn’t enough, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son would be killed two weeks later, and when asked how he could justify the killing, Press Secretary Gibbs explained, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.” It’s not just the threat level that goes into determining if you deserve to live or die. It seems, in some cases, your lineage is enough to warrant your guilt, and therefore your assassination – but we already knew that.