Foreign Policy Blogs

War Crimes 2011 Year In Review – Africa


Person of the Year – Fatou Bensouda

The face of international war crimes prosecution is now an African woman.  Fatou Bensouda was chosen to succeed Luis Moreno-Ocampo as the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor in December.  Bensouda has formerly served as Solicitor-General in Gambia, and as an adviser and trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  The choice of Bensouda will help the I.C.C.’s image in Africa where all of the crimes in cases being prosecuted at the court occurred.   When Bensouda takes over in June she will become only the second Chief Prosecutor for the I.C.C. and the first African.



South Sudan gained independence in July as Omar al Bashir’s genocidal campaign expanded. Civilian targets in Darfur and South Sudan continue to suffer dozens of casualties weekly by aerial bombardments from the north, while the targeted killing of civilians has expanded to South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions where mass killings and mass rapes began before South Sudan officially existed, and continue to this day. Meanwhile Sudanese president/genocidaire Bashir has received less pressure and softer criticism from Western governments than other Arab leaders despite his body count being larger by magnitudes. Bashir has a warrant issued for his arrest by the I.C.C. but still managed to visit Malawi, Djibouti, Egypt and China last year with impunity.


Côte d’Ivoire

Laurent Gbagbo became the first former head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court, in December.  The former president of Ivory Coast was arrested in April after months of violence in the country which claimed 3,000 lives resulting from Gbagbo’s refusal to relinquish power after being defeated in the 2010 presidential election by Alassanne Ouattara. The I.C.C. is continuing its investigation into the situation in Ivory Coast where former chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has described attacks against civillians there as widespread and systematicPro-Ouattara forces are also suspected of ethnically motivated massacres.



On June 27th, Moammar Gaddafi became the second sitting head of state issued with an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.  Warrants were issued for Gaddafi for crimes against humanity following the February 15 uprising, along with his son and de-facto Prime Minister at the time Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, and for Intelligence Chief Abdullah Al-Senussi.  The case against Moammar Gaddafi was terminated in November following his death.  The I.C.C. is working with Libya on possible avenues of prosecution of Saif Gaddafi who is in Libyan custody, deciding whether the trial will occur in Libya, The Hague or both.  Conflicting reports persist as to whether Al-Senussi has been captured or remains at large.



The ‘Ocampo Six’ faced Confirmation of Charges hearings in September and October and expect a ruling on whether their trials will proceed at the I.C.C. in the first few weeks of the new year.  Six high rankings officials, including two candidates in this year’s presidential contest, are being charged with crimes against humanity relating to the 2008 post-election violence.  The ‘Six’ hopes of dismissal were bolstered by the Court’s decision in December declining to confirm charges against Callixte Mbarushimana for allegedly orchestrating attacks on civilians in the D.R.C. from abroad.  Mbarushimana has also been implicated in murders during the Rwandan Genocide and has been released in France.


Sierra Leone

The trial of former Liberian war lord and president Charles Taylor concluded in March at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  Two months later contempt proceedings commenced upon reports that prosecution witnesses were being sought out and offered bribes to recant their testimony.  The judges are still in deliberation and a verdict is expected in early 2012.  Wikileaks released a 2009 cable showing U.S. diplomats trying to arrange to extradite Taylor for trial in America if he is acquitted at the S.C.S.L.  Taylor is currently on trial for his involvement in the Sierra Leonian Civil War and at trial has been accused of commanding the Revolutionary United Front, and using them primarily as a diamond pillaging force, killing and maiming thousands of civiallians during the war. 

Central African Republic

The trial Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo continued all of 2011 with the prosecution expected to wrap up its case in February of 2012.  The trial set a record for allowing 1,681 victims to take part in a trial at the I.C.C.  Former C.A.R. president Ange-Félix Patassé died in April preventing any future prosecution for crimes committed by Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces, as their overall commander.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

The trial of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo closed in August marking the end to the first trial held at the I.C.C.  Lubanga was charged in 2006 with the use of child soldiers, among other crimes, as the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots.  The Lubanga trial commenced in 2009 and a verdict is expected in early 2012.


The second trial in the I.C.C.’s history – against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui concluded less than three months later.  Ngudjolo and Katanga are, like Lubanga, charged with crimes which occurred in the D.R.C.’s eastern Ituri province.  Ngudjolo and Katanga are alleged to have been responsible for an ethnically motivated attack on the village of Bogoro.  Katanga, who was the first defendant at the I.C.C. to testify on his own behalf, denied the ethnic dimension of the conflict in Bogoro.  Ngudjolo took the stand denying that he was even present.  These verdicts in early 2012 will set the tone for Bensouda’s Office of the Prosecutor, and for future I.C.C. trials.



The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda wrapped up its last calendar year in 2011.  In July of 2012 the new International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals is set to take over the remaining work of the ICTR (and that of the ITCY in 2013) which is currently estimated at less than 4%.  Two former National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development leaders were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the 1994 Genocide in December, meanwhile convicted Genocide architect, former Rwandan Defense Ministry Chief of Staff, Theoneste Bagosora’s life sentence was commuted to thirty-five years after appeals judges cleared him from charges surrounding some mass murders, while maintaining his conviction for genocide.  In light of the impending closing of the ICTR and improvements in the Rwandan judicial system, the tribunal made its first referral of a genocide case to the domestic courts in Rwanda.  Just five years previously the Tribunal refused to make such referrals citing the Rwandan court system’s inability to adequately administer justice.  Since its inception in 1994 eighty-three of the ninety-two people indicted by the tribunal have been arrested; sixty-three have been sentenced to jail terms spanning from nine months to life imprisonment; five accused are still on trial and nine remain at large.






Brandon Henander
Brandon Henander

Brandon lives in Chicago and works as a Project Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. He has a LL.M. in International Law and International Relations from Flinders University in Adelaide. Brandon has worked as a lobbyist for Amnesty International Australia and as an intern for U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science, Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Iowa. His interests include American and Asian politics, human rights, war crimes and the International Criminal Court.

Great Decisions Discussion group