The new deterrent?

­Callixte Mbarushimana, Executive Secretary of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and alleged perpetrator of crimes within the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been detained in France following a warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued on Sept. 28 of this year. He is wanted by the ICC on six counts of war crimes including murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts, persecution and destruction of property, as well as five counts of crimes against humanity.

Mbarushimana, provided there is no appeal, will be the fourth person to be extradited to the ICC, located in The Hague for crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a nation currently facing a crisis of mass sexual violence against women and young girls.

“The women who are being raped and mutilated in the Congo … are saying ‘we want justice’. They would probably like it if the ICC could do a lot more,” said Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, professor of global studies and Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights.

However, with years of history behind the conflict and many interrelated actors, the effectiveness of the ICC trials as a deterrent to violence is questionable.

While Howard-Hassmann believes that “the mess started in 1960 when [the country] became independent,” a clear escalation can be linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The recent history of displaced persons, human rights violations and conflict that can be traced to various African nations in the eastern region of the DRC is deeply complex.

“From what I know of the Congo, I doubt that [the ICC] will have much effect if any in lowering the level of violence,” said Howard-Hassmann, acknowledging the extreme complexity of the situation.

Many critics attribute this not only to the diverse history and multiplicity of factors affecting the dispute, but also to the ICC itself. Those who favour international criminal tribunals over a permanent court have frequently cited the non-membership of the United States as a critical factor in the future effectiveness of the Court. To suggest that one of the world’s most powerful countries has the appearance of being above international justice reflects poorly to skeptics of its success.

Howard-Hassman contradicts this oversimplification, stating that “to always concentrate on the United States is a major flaw,” as there are many other notable countries, such as China, which have yet to adopt the Rome Statute.
Howard-Hassman reflected bleakly upon the future of the Congo, with her conclusion that “The West is to blame; the US and France left [Mobutu] to do what he wanted as long as he was a Western ally.” She added, “I don’t know whether any kind of intervention could have stopped this mess now.”