Many Africans are coming to believe that international justice is selective

Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush’s Defence minister, is having a great time puffing his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War and Life.

A Sunday Times journalist who recently met him says he “is almost always grinning these days”.

Rumsfeld is quite a character. He first became Defence chief in 1975, the youngest ever and got the job back 27 years later in 2001.

Those who have an interest in such matters will remember him for his clever quote: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

He neatly turned it into the title of his successful memoir, Known and Unknown.

This is truly the week of crime and punishment, when the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission published its voluminous report naming virtually every leader over the past 45 years in connection with violations of human rights, economic crimes and illegal acquisition of land.

It is the week, too, that the International Criminal Court put together two chambers, one to try our president, the other his deputy.

They are accused of masterminding the violence in 2007 in which more than 1,000 people died and many others uprooted.

On the Internet, there is an organisation which keeps a tally of the civilians who have died since the US invaded Iraq in 2003. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion. Their country is, of course, largely destroyed.

As one of the leading architects of that war, Rumsfeld and other members of the Bush administration lied that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam was a belligerent, evil man who had used chemical weapons against the Kurds. But at the time of invasion, he no longer had those weapons. You ask yourself, does justice then wear black? Is it the fate of the weak?

If you took part in an operation against cattle-rustlers 20 years ago and you hurt people in the process, today you live in fear that you will be called to account.

If you started a war in which tens of thousands of non-combatants died, your actions and decisions are totally unexamined.

But what caught my attention is Rumsfeld’s criticism of President Obama’s handling of Syria.

The former Pentagon chief argues that by not becoming directly involved, Obama is making a mistake because it shows America as weak.

I remember an article by Fareed Zakaria which gently argued against American intervention in Syria.

The argument is, even though there is a good humanitarian basis for advocating intervention, that is, people are being slaughtered, US intervention does not lead to fewer people being killed.

It leads to more people being killed. He gave the example of Iraq.

Dictatorship is bad, democracy is good. But all these wars in the Middle East are not making life better for the people.

I think justice works best when everyone is shaved with the same razor. At the very least, there should be an examination of the decisions of world powers in their decisions to go to war, which ends in the squander of fortunes, destruction of nations and the slaughter of tens of thousands.

If news reports are accurate, the African Union will any time now deliberate on a motion asking for a joint resolution threatening to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court.

The argument that the movers of that motion will likely use is that international justice is selective, it tends to find Africans, but not others who, too, may have committed crimes.

Some of the countries which will be standing up in support of the ICC are themselves not signatory to the treaty and have in the past expressed distrust of the court.

I know we Africans are not supposed to be clever, but it requires special gifts to reconcile our thirst for justice and the duplicity of the world’s nations.

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Freedom of the press means the freedom to write and broadcast things you don’t want made public, or you consider unfair or wrong or cheap or uninteresting.

Nobody needs guaranteed freedoms to report the things you want everyone to know, or things which give you a warm feeling every time you read them.


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