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The ICC has taken a new step that could redeem its damaged image and endear it to progressive people in Africa and all the developing world. The court has announced that henceforth it will be investigating with a view to prosecuting crimes that result in the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and  illegal dispossession of land.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established under a multilateral treaty called the Rome Statute which was adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002. The is based in The Hague, Holland, and has 124 member states.

Unfortunately, the ICC does not enjoy much support in enlightened circles in Africa. This is because an overwhelming number of the people it has sought to try for “crimes against humanity” and/or “genocide” have tended to be Africans. Yet some of the worst crimes against humanity have been committed by non-African political leaders, especially George W Bush of the USA and Tony Blair of the UK (who used their powerful air forces and ground troops to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq because the two leaders believed – falsely – that Saddam Hussein's government possessed “weapons of mass destruction”).

While these two walk free (in fact, because it knows its own sins only too well, the US voted AGAINST the very establishment of the ICC!) the ICC's prosecutors have, so far, opened investigations into ten situations: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Georgia. As can be seen, nine of the ten countries on which ICC prosecutors have fully engaged themselves are in Africa. The trial processes are at various stages and in the case of Kenya, the charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy President collapsed altogether. The perception of racial discrimination that the ICC has attracted to itself has in fact led to some African countries advocating disengagement of the continent from the ICC treaty.

Yet the idea for an ICC had been floated at the UN for quite some time – with African support – before it was eventually actualised. Even as work was proceeding on drafting of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, two temporary bodies with similar objectives were set up by the United Nations Security Council – to deal specifically with the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) and the atrocities that occurred in the former Yugoslavia during the sanguine civil war there, following the collapse of Communism and the subsequent atrocity-marked dismemberment of the country (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, created in 1993). There has also been, outside the direct ambit of the ICC, a Special Court on Sierra Leone, which jailed the former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, for his part in the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its terrible civil war of the 1990s.

Well, the ICC has now taken a step that could redeem it from its past flawed image and endear it to progressive people not only in Africa but in all developing countries. It announced on 15 September 2016 that henceforth, it will be investigating, with a view to prosecuting “crimes assessed in the light of... the increased vulnerability of victims, the terror subsequently instilled, or the social, economic and environmental damage inflicted on the affected communities.”

With this in view, the ICC Prosecutor's Office will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or “that result in the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, or the illegal dispossession of land.”

The new ICC position has been widely interpreted as a “change of focus” which will enable the Court to expand its remit and “prosecute governments and individuals for environmental crimes such as land-grabs”. (A case had already been lodged with the ICC on behalf of 10 Cambodians alleging mass human rights violations by the Cambodian authorities, related to land-grabbing.)

The London Guardian reported that “The UN-backed court... has mostly ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002. It has been criticised for its reluctance to investigate major environmental and cultural crimes, which often happen in peacetime. [But] in a change of focus, the ICC said it would now also prioritise crimes that result in the “destruction of the environment”, “exploitation of natural resources” and the “illegal dispossession” of land. It also included an explicit reference to land-grabbing.”

The Guardian added that the ICC, “which is funded by governments and is regarded as the court of last resort [in the world], said it would also now take many crimes that had been traditionally “under-prosecuted” into consideration. So while the court is not (as the paper points out) “formally extending its jurisdiction”, it will henceforth “assess existing offences, such as crimes against humanity, in a broader context.”

The courageous anti-corruption campaign group, Global Witness, has commented that land-grabbing has led to many forced evictions, the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, malnutrition and environmental destruction.

“Land-grabbing is no less harmful than war, in terms of negative impacts on civilians”, said Alice Harrison, an adviser at Global Witness. “Today’s announcement should send a warning shot to company executives and investors that the environment is no longer their playground.”

The ICC announcement should sound like music in the ears of the Ghana social activists known as OccupyGhana. They have announced plans to take legal action against the Government of Ghana for its inability and/or unwillingness to eliminate the galamsey (artisanal gold mining) menace in Ghana that has already destroyed many of our biggest water bodies, such as the Birem, Ankobra, Prah, Offin, Densu and many smaller rivers like Supong (in my birth-place, Asiakwa in the Eastern region, which used to flood and frighten us when we were children but which has now become a trickle of water covered in green algae.)

The Government of Ghana initially showed outrage at the destruction wrought by galamsey and in a praise-worthy effort set up a task force to evict the Chinese master-minds behind the galamsey operations and their Ghanaian collaborators. But the work of the task force was fatally undermined when the president himself, Mr John Mahama, did an incomprehensible U-turn and publicly criticised the task force for what he called “the brutal manner” it was going about the work of trying to stop galamsey! Mr Mahama claimed – in a statement that would have given great comfort to the criminals killing our water bodies – that galamsey operators were just trying to “earn a living”.

So the task force retracted its claws; our water bodies continue to be destroyed; and some scientists are forecasting that many areas in Ghana “will run out of drinking water in the next five years” at most.

On my visit to Ghana in June 2016, it was intimated to me that the Institute of Aquatic Biology of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has carried out studies that clearly establish the perilous nature of our potable water situation. OccupyGhana should tap into the scientific community for evidence to use to prosecute the Government of Ghana and its somnolent agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Resources Commission and the Land Commission.

The University of Cape Coast also has faculty members who, to my knowledge, are well apprised of the facts regarding the destruction of our water-bodies. And one lecturer in the History Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, has devoted months to studying the modus operandi of the galamsey operators, and can furnish OccupyGhana with an enormous amount of empirical data, if asked.

OccupyGhana can also find a lot of material in Hansard. On one single day in Parliament (26 February 2016) an amazing amount of information emerged on the water situation in Ghana, including a detailed statement by the Minister in charge Water Resources. (Click here).

So, over to you, OccupyGhana! May your efforts succeed. Generations of Ghanaians yet unborn will have you to thank, if you stop this inexorable march by Ghana towards national, self-inflicted-genocide' in its tracks.

* Cameron Duodu is a veteran Ghanaian journalist and author.



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