ICC keeps a close eye on Djibouti

Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh is in the sights of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which has told the GNA exclusively that the Office of the Prosecutor is monitoring events in the country where violence is escalating during the run-up to a presidential election in May.

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President Guelleh, who is going for a controversial fourth term, has been accused by the opposition of targeting is members, 19 of whom were killed on December 21.

Ibrahim Omar Guelleh
Ibrahim Omar Guelleh

In the light of the start of the trial at the ICC of the former president of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, as a result of election violence, the GNA’s London Bureau contacted the ICC by email to ask about its position on political violence in Djibouti.

The OTP sent a terse but no-nonsense reply: “Djibouti is a State Party to the International Criminal Court and The Office of the Prosecutor is following up on the developments in the country.”

At the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Kenya, one of the situation countries at the ICC, led a call for African countries to walk out of the court, arguing that it is unfairly targeting countries on the continent.

But ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told London Bureau Chief Desmond Davies in The Hague last May that the cases relating to Africa were not made up.

“After all, the crimes committed by those Africans accused by the ICC were real crimes,” she said.

“What is happening is that the ICC is helping African countries to strengthen the rule of law on the continent.”

The situation in Djibouti is beginning to warrant international comment.

For instance, Prof Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch and who drafted the UN resolution that created the International Criminal Tribunal Rwanda (ICTR), wrote last month that despite the ICC, “in Africa [today], I see worrying signs of [the] return [of genocide]”.

Writing in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, the American noted: “Thousands of American service personnel live [in Djibouti], and we have more influence with President Ismaïl Guelleh than perhaps any other country.

“So I hang my head in shame that, after Guelleh’s troops opened fire on civilians on 21 December last year, neither the State Department nor the White House would condemn the massacre.”

Prof Stanton pointed that as in Burundi, the problem in Djibouti was “an unpopular president refusing to step down. Guelleh has already served three terms in breach of his own constitution and will stand again for election this year”.

He added: “Freedom and democracy are not about being in power. They only mean something when the ruling party shows it’s not afraid to spend a few years in opposition, regrouping and putting up a better show at the next election.

“It is often said we lament genocide in the aftermath, but not in the lead up when something could have been done.”

Prof Stanton went on: “Well, here we are, with the red flag of danger flying high in Burundi, and flapping to a softer but equally menacing breeze in Djibouti.

“The UN and the AU avoid taking forceful, preventive action by calling the massacres, ‘crimes against humanity’.

“The term that demands action – genocide – has been narrowed by international lawyers to cases of wholesale murder like the Holocaust, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, or Darfur.”

The Head of External Relations for Djibouti’s opposition Union pour le Salut National (USN), Abdourahman Boreh, told the GNA in London that he welcomed the ICC’s “notice to the government of Djibouti to observe the rule of law”.

“We at the USN hope that President Guelleh will listen to the ICC and allow Djiboutians to go to the polls without fear of intimidation from government forces,” he said.

Last December, after the killing of 19 people, including a six-year-old girl, by government forces, Mr Boreh said in a statement: “We must get to the root causes and hold those responsible to account.

“The world has a duty to intervene to ensure justice is done – and the people of Djibouti can look to a free and democratic future with confidence.”

GNA

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