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Tchiroma’s Role In Inciting War Crimes Could Earn Him an ICC Indictment - ICC Bar President
Category :- Interviews Author :- Legideon 
Posted on August 7, 2018, 12:00 am
PAV: Chief Charles Taku, congratulations on your recent election as President of the ICC Bar Association, can you start by introducing Association, its role and membership?
Chief Taku:  Thanks so much.  The International Criminal Court Bar Association is the recognized independent voice of the victims’ counsel, defense counsel and their support staff appearing before the International Criminal Court.  This critical institutional recognition was given by the Assembly of State Parties of the Rome Statute two years ago. A unique perspective of the ICCBA is its diverse membership. It represents all the major legal cultures of the world with its membership and associate or affiliate membership opened to lawyers and legal scholars from all parts of the world. The ICCBA provides a platform and a voice for the world far beyond the ICC institutional framework to contribute to the administration of a free, fair, dispassionate international criminal justice that meets the standards and thresholds established by the original objectives of the Rome Statute.  Coming in the threshold of the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, I will dedicate my mandate as the President of the ICCBA in promoting and protecting these universal values. 
PAV:  Can you give us some insights into the elections that brought you to the helm of the ICC Bar Association?
Chief Taku:  The membership of the International Criminal Court Bar Association is wide and diverse. The election was conducted electronically to enable members to vote from their respective locations worldwide.  A candidate must be nominated by five members to be eligible to contest positions within the association. The elections for membership of the Executive Council and Committees were hotly contested but I was the only candidate nominated for the post of President. 
PAV: How does one become a lawyer with the ICC?
Chief Taku:  The ICC rules contain an elaborate procedure for the admission of counsel on the list of counsel appearing before the court. List counsel must be persons of high moral and ethical integrity, sound educational and professional experience in international law.  Counsel with at least ten years of professional experience or university professors with the same experience may qualify for admission on the list of counsel. The court retains a list of assistants to counsel with the same ethical and moral standards but with experience of at least seven years of professional legal practice. Admission to a national bar association and a police report establishing the non-conviction status of the applicant by any court and a certificate of good conduct by the President of the applicant’s bar association must be submitted along with an online application form which is available at the ICC official website.  
PAV: Under what platform did Barrister Taku run on and what should be expected of your presidency in this term?
Chief Taku: The ICCBA gave the institutional approval of the Assembly of State Parties at the threshold of the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. This came in time to attempt to correct a significant error in the statutory framework of the Rome Statute that failed to acknowledge a role for counsel for the defence and victims. I strongly campaigned over the years for the correction of this statutory deficit and the Assembly of State Parties of the Rome Statute finally granted the International Court Bar Association, its seal of approval. 
As I have stated earlier, the ICCBA provides a platform and a voice for the world far beyond the ICC institutional framework to contribute to the administration of a free, fair dispassionate international criminal justice that meets the standards and thresholds established by the original objectives of the Rome Statute. I will make sure that the platform fulfils its mandate.  I will strongly urge an amendment of the rules by the Presidency of the ICC to make membership of the ICCBA of all counsel, assistants to counsel and auxiliary staff mandatory to ensure the respect for ethical standards, training and the protection of the rights of counsel and participants of court proceedings. Significantly, I will make the ICCBA a credible gatekeeper of fair trials at the ICC with a reformed policy of non-discrimination, accountability, respect for the rule of the rule and the fight against impunity. I will vigorously fight against impunity and all forms of prejudice during my mandate. During my mandate, the ICCBA will sign cooperation agreements with international bar associations, courts and tribunals worldwide with a view to encouraging institutional dialogue and the mutual recognition and respect of key actors working towards the same objectives of fighting impunity, the respect of the rule of law and making the world a better place for all.
PAV: Someone remarked recently that almost all top leadership positions in and around the ICC are occupied by Africans, how significant is this?
Chief Taku:  Shorty after my election, a significant association of journalists called “Journalists for Journalists” grouping almost one hundred journalists and news organs operating at the ICC made that statement. That statement was contextualized to the criticism that the ICC has targeted Africans since it was established.  The journalists asked this question: “Now the President of the ICC, the Chief Prosecutor and head of the bar association are all African. Is the ICC still “the European Court” for Africa?”.  My position which must not be conflated with that of ICCBA which has not commented on the controversy is that the question as framed is misplaced. Those who framed the problem as “European Vs Africa” miscomprehended the problem. As a key critic of the selective intervention policies that target Africa, I argued that participants in crimes committed in Africa are not exclusively Africans. Indeed, key states and institutions in the EU and some of the world powers in the Security Council that have been driving the intervention policies in Africa are the sponsors of the wars and crimes committed in the continent. My concern and that of many others are that the battle for the soul of the ICC has distracted the focus on its key statutory objectives, come from the key economic and neo-colonial blocs that are the sponsors and motivators of crimes in Africa. This is not a matter of who heads the institutions of the court. It has nothing to do with the race of the key office holders but to the ability of the officeholders no matter their race or origin to possess the independence, the moral and ethical integrity to provide leadership towards the realization of the original objectives of the Rome Statute. These were the promises that the Rome Statute held for the future of humanity. These were the promises that inspired 36 Africa to ratify the Rome Statute establishing the ICC.  Have office holders lived to those promises?  The judgment of history will determine.  However, three persons of African origin holding key positions has nothing to do with the polarizing selective investigations and prosecutions in the ICC African Situations.  The lackeys and puppets provided weapons and prosecute the wars in which massive crimes are committed with impunity in the continent of Africa to safeguard neo-colonial economic and geopolitical interests are Africans.  They must be held accountable just as state, none state actors and individuals of foreign nationality providing the arms for the perpetration of the crimes coming within the Rome Statute.  The Rome Statute did not make any distinction on racial, religious, political, national or other discriminatory bases. 
What I know is that each mandate holder, no matter his race or origin must not betray the trust conferred on us by our peers and the millions of victims and justice seekers worldwide. We must look beyond race and geographic considerations to build a strong coalition of justice seekers, imbued with a common spirit or resolve to make the Rome Statute a living testament to the values it sought to enthrone for a safe and prosperous world under the rule of law.
PAV: And if we may talk on a few specific cases concerning Africa, what is the situation with Jean Pierre Bemba of the D.R.Congo?
Chief Taku:  Mr Jean Claude Bemba was acquitted by the Appeals Chamber of the ICC in the main case in which he was previously convicted and sentenced to 18 years. He is a free man, participating in the politics of his country the Democratic Republic of Congo where he has a very large following.  His acquittal has aroused passionate debates in many circles. There are a few lessons, however, to learn from his prosecution, conviction and then acquittal on appeal.  The first is about the wrong perception by many people that once a person is charged and detained at the ICC, he is presumed guilty of the crimes for which he is charged. Unless he confesses to the charges alleged against him or her, an accused is presumed innocent.  There is always a possibility as I have explained elsewhere that the Prosecutor may consciously or unconsciously make a prosecutorial decision to charge a wrong suspect for crimes which he or she may not be factually and /or legally responsible under the ICC Statute.  The next lesson is that although they belong to key institutions of the ICC, the Judges and the Prosecutor hold different mandates and their roles in the proceedings coming before the court are different.  The Judges are an independent organ of the court. They make their decisions based on the law and the facts. The decisions of the Judges may be tested on appeal. This is not the same with the Prosecutor whose policies decisions to investigate and prosecute are not subject to questioning by the court. The Prosecutor make policy decisions which may or may not stand the test of scrutiny in trial proceedings.  Finally, the mandate of the ICC is not intended to fulfil political objectives but to objectives clearly defined in the Rome Statute. 
PAV: What about leaders like Charles Taylor and Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, any prospects that they may see freedom at some point?
Chief Taku: Charles Taylor was tried and convicted in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is serving his sentence in a jail in England under a judicial agreement between the Special Court for Sierra Leone and England.  The special agreements and memoranda of understanding on the serving of sentences make provisions for early release or release on medical or other grounds.  Yes indeed, Charles Taylor may indeed be granted early release if the requirements for such a judicial decision are met.
With President Laurent Gbagbo, his case is pending before the ICC Trial Chamber and I cannot venture to speculate what the outcome of the case may be. 
PAV: What is your reading of the political situation in your native Cameroon especially on the fighting and gross human rights abuses in the North West and South West regions of the country?
Chief Taku:  On the basis of statements made by Cameroon government officials themselves which are well documented, the scale of the crimes committed by government soldiers and operatives are crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.  I have come to this conclusion based on statements and evidence made public by civilian and military government officials and commanders. Of course, there is a lot more evidence out there from credible reports filed by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, diplomatic missions accredited to Cameroon and the physical perpetrators themselves. I have examined the declaration of war statement made by President Paul Biya on his arrival from a conference in Abidjan Cote D’Ivoire in November 2017.  He clearly defined the enemy he deployed the army to take out as Southern Cameroons civilians whom he called terrorists. Although he in subsequent speeches attempted to nuance his definition, that was insignificant and did not affect the orders to exterminate and commit crimes on a massive scale under the pretext of waging war against terrorism. He was aware of the definition of terrorists in the war against terrorism against Boko Haram carried out by an international alliance in which Cameroon is a party.  Characterizing Southern Cameroonians freedom seekers as terrorists placed the direct responsibility for the crimes perpetrated on the President and his subsidiary civilian and military commanders.
PAV: Is the ICC aware of the situation in those regions and would you say some of the excesses there fall in the category of cases the ICC could entertain?
Chief Taku:  Cameroon signed unto the Rome Statute establishing the court but did not ratify it. Cameroon is therefore not a state party to the Rome Statute. Does this preclude the ICC from intervening in the situation in Cameroon?  The answer is no. The Security Council may refer the situation to the ICC.  If crimes against citizens of Cameroon are committed by Cameroon in the territory of a state party, the ICC may intervene.  The abduction of Seseku Ayuk Tabe and others who were under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and their deportation to Cameroon are criminalized by the Rome Statute. The massive deportation of Southern Cameroons civilians from their ancestral homes in Manyu division towards Nigeria and the cross-border abductions and targeted killing of many of them in the territory of Nigeria falls within the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute.  A senior member of the Nigeria intelligence service Babagana Mungano a national security adviser to President Buhari confessed his involvement and that of his government to these crimes, suggesting a coordinated inter-government policy of criminality.  These crimes occurred at a time the ICC Prosecutor is conducting a preliminary examination in the crimes committed by Nigerian soldiers and security operatives against civilians in the war against Boko Haram. The crimes of the multinational forces in which Cameroonian forces are participants are surely under the radar of the preliminary investigation which has been on since 2010. 
The recent execution of a woman of Nigerian nationality and her child by Cameroon soldiers deployed to the multinational force against Boko Haram and its outcry must surely have attracted the attention of ICC investigators.  The unsuccessful denial by Issa Tchiroma whose key role in inciting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are well documented against provides an official character to the crimes.  The magnitude of the crimes committed and its progression towards a wider escalation in the Gulf of Guinea, and the entire region may irresistibly end in the United Nations establishing a Special Court for Cameroon. I do not see an alternative to the creation of this court if the international community genuinely wants to abate this genocide and the international crimes that will sooner or later engulf the entire sub-region.  The magnitude of the crimes and the resolve of the Southern Cameroons to fight on may already have made any form of dispute settlement that will retain Cameroon as one nation impossible. 
PAV: Thanks for granting this interview Chief             
Chief Taku: You most welcome.     

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