Is the International Criminal Court Following the Flag in Mali?

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Only five days after the French launched a military attack on Islamic militants in Mali’s Northern region, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a formal investigation into alleged crimes committed in Mali. This decision reinforces the ICC’s emerging (if informal) role as an instrument of coercive diplomacy. Bensouda’s words suggest the same. “Justice” she writes, “can play its part in supporting the joint efforts of the ECOWAS, the AU and the entire international community to stop the violence and restore peace to the region.” The timing of this announcement, though, also gives weight to the perception that the ICC follows the flag of Western military interventions in Africa. Of course, few will contest the gravity of alleged crimes in Mali – summary executions of soldiers, rape of women and young girls, killing of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers, torture, pillaging, enforced disappearances, and the destruction of property. And, for advocates uncomfortable with direct links between the Security Council and the ICC, intervention in Mali has the legitimacy accorded by a self referral. In July of last year, the government of Mali invited the ICC to look at crimes in the North making it the fifth self-referral by an African country, and the first under this new Prosecutor.


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