Okechukwu Oko


This article evaluates the problems and challenges of international criminal prosecutions in Africa.Part I examines the values of criminal prosecution. It examines whether international criminal prosecutions can be used as a vehicle to contribute to "national reconciliation and to the restoration and maintenance of peace." I concede that punishing perpetrators of evil is definitively a viable mechanism for combating impunity. In appropriate cases, the criminal process can be deployed to engineer compliance with the law and to deter would-be perpetrators of evil. I argue, however, that the objectives of using criminal prosecution to reestablish social equilibrium and promote reconciliation, though laudable and rhetorically inspiring, are simply unattainable. The hope that international criminal prosecutions will reconcile mutually distrustful ethnic groups with a long history of reciprocal hatred is quaint, perhaps even naive. International criminal prosecutions launched in Africa amidst much publicity and high expectations are on the verge of oblivion, perhaps irrelevance. After more than ten years of international criminal prosecutions in Africa, it is becoming increasingly obvious that criminal prosecution is a weak reed on which to hoist the strategy of reestablishing social equilibrium and reconciling intergroup hostilities in post-conflict African societies. A confluence of systemic and environmental factors have undermined the hoped-for influence of international criminal prosecutions in Africa. Part II examines the limitations of criminal trials. This portion presents a clear and rich exploration of the causes of violence in Africa and explains why international criminal law has not delivered as promised. It offers some explanations of factors that undermine the effectiveness of international criminal prosecutions, namely attitudinal, environmental factors, lack of cooperation from state governments, and limits of criminal prosecution. It urges all those involved in the fight against impunity in Africa to rethink the deeply flawed assumptions about the capacity of international law to bring about transformative changes in the conduct of citizens and group relations in Africa. Violence is so interwoven with the maladies in the continent - corruption, poverty, ethnic tensions - that it is doubtful if criminal prosecutions alone can serve as a chastening influence on the behavior of the leaders or the citizens trapped within the society. Building an effective strategy to reestablish social order in post-conflict African societies requires an understanding of the idiosyncratic environmental factors that animate violence, as well as recognition that criminal prosecutions cannot address the social pathologies that have disfigured Africa. It is these pathologies that will define and shape Africa's future, not the legacy of criminal prosecutions.