By Brian Obara
If you were curious how many people begrudge Tony Blair his liberty for his part in the monumental failure of judgment regarding the Iraq invasion, you got your answer this week. His critics are legion, and they want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to hurry up already and put him away.
The online pile on was touched off by an article
published by the UK daily The Telegraph on Saturday. The piece gave everything away in its title: “Outrage as war crimes prosecutors say Tony Blair will not be investigated over Chilcot’s Iraq war report – but British soldiers could be”. The Chilcot Inquiry
, named after its chairman Sir John Chilcot, is a British public inquiry into the nation’s role in the Iraq War. Given its explosive revelations, The Telegraph article triggered a “plague on both your houses” condemnation of Blair and the ICC.
There was a common thread that ran through much of the criticism: Blair is getting special treatment from the ICC, the kind he wouldn’t get if was an African head of state.
Bensouda chimes in with a correction
With the online backlash at full tilt, ICC Chief Prosecutor on Monday evening chimed in with a correction. In a statement emailed by her office, Bensouda took The Telegraph to the woodshed, accusing the paper of spreading “inaccurate” information about the ICC and her office. Contrary to what was reported by the British broadsheet, the ICC chief prosecutor wanted everybody to know that her “Office has not taken a position with respect to the Chilcot Report; the contents of which are yet to be released and are unknown to us at this stage”.
“Suggesting, therefore, that the ICC has ruled out investigating the former British Prime Minister for war crimes but may prosecute soldiers is a misrepresentation of the facts, drawn from unfamiliarity with the Court’s jurisdictional parameters,” added Bensouda.
For good measure, Bensouda gave an interview to the BBC’s Anna Holligan on Monday in which she stressed the same point: Tony Blair is still on my radar, trust me.
It’s easy to see why this is a touchy subject for Bensouda. The statistics on the ICC’s intervention in Africa compared to other continents are pretty stark.
Despite Bensouda’s firm words on the matter, experts say the ICC is unlikely to move a muscle to indict Blair. The main reason for this, as Bensouda alludes to in her statement, is the ICC doesn’t yet have the jurisdiction to try Blair for the crime of aggression
. The crime of aggression – committed by an individual with a high military or political profile – is different from the act of aggression, which legally can only be committed by a state. The ratification of the Kampala Amendments on the crime of aggression is proceeding at a glacial pace with Iceland and Palestine being the latest nations to sign on
International criminal law experts like Mark Kersten say an optimistic prediction
for when the ICC can try the crime of aggression is 2017. Even then, Tony Blair wouldn’t be in the dock because his alleged crimes would fall outside the mandate of the ICC because of when the invasion of Iraq took place.
Blair: The gift that keeps on giving
Though they make a big show of dropping Tony Blair’s name and that of former US President George W. Bush every time the ICC discussion comes up, African Union (UN) leaders are probably the only people who – in their hearts of hearts – don’t begrudge the two their freedom.
For them Blair and Bush are the gifts that keep on giving because they provide the starkest example of the ICC’s impotence when it comes to dealing with crimes committed outside Africa. They make it much easier to win the propaganda war against the ICC: “racist court is what racist court does.”
If the ICC were to put Blair on trial (let alone convict him), it would rob the African Union (AU) leaders of their biggest talking point against the ICC. There’s no better stick to beat the ICC with. Just ask Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who personally and through his PR machine used the Blair-Bush-Iraq-War stick to thrash The Hague-based court while publically palling around with the former UK PM.
With friends like these who needs a defence team?
For those still determined to throw Blair in the slammer, there is still hope out there.
Lead image: A demonstrator wearing a mask depicting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair protests in London shortly before the outcome of the Iraq inquiry is announced (Photo: Ben Stensall/AFP)