International justice for thee, but not for me

Uganda’s President-Until-He-Feels-Like-Retiring Yoweri Museveni

When Yoweri Museveni stood for a second term as Ugandan president in 2001, he pledged that his second term would be his last term. It’s now 2016 and Museveni was just sworn in for his fifth term in office, so clearly he had a change of heart somewhere along the way (though I think he somewhat hilariously keeps promising that each new term will be his last one). I guess it would be one thing if Museveni were being swept to all these extra terms on a tidal wave of public support, but when your campaign tactics include, among other questionable decisions, arresting the guy running against you just as the votes are being counted, that raises some major questions about how fairly the election is being contested.

Museveni’s human rights record is checkered at best, and not even that good if you happen to be gay in his Uganda, and there’s reason to fear that he’ll be more repressive this term than ever before, since his public support is more tenuous. But on the scale of humanitarian crimes he doesn’t hold a candle to one of the VIPs attending his inauguration today, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Bashir is a legitimate war criminal (uh, allegedly or whatever) and the only world leader currently wanted by the International Criminal Court. So his presence at today’s ceremony was enough to irritate the western delegations sent to acknowledge Museveni’s inauguration. And then, when Museveni took part of his inaugural address to attack the ICC (he reportedly called it “a bunch of useless people”), this happened:

Western delegations attending the inauguration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have walked out of the ceremony in protest.

US, European and Canadian diplomats left abruptly when Mr Museveni made disparaging comments about the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The US state department said they had also objected to the presence of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir at the ceremony.

There are two things to note here. The first is that, while Museveni is the wrong guy to deliver the message, particularly with his pal Bashir in the audience, the ICC really does have a credibility problem brought on by the fact that it only investigates African crimes against humanity. There are some legitimate reasons for that (the ICC doesn’t select most of its cases on its own accord), but there is an inescapable undercurrent of racism at work here as well. The second thing worth noting is that the United States, which claims to support the ICC so deeply that its representatives walk out of speeches in which the court is criticized, won’t ratify the Rome Statute and actually submit to the court’s jurisdiction. Instead it helps the court on a case by case basis to pursue prosecutions that the US wants to see happen. Here, let the State Department explain:

Although the United States is not at present a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and will always protect U.S. personnel, we are engaging with State Parties to the Rome Statute on issues of concern and are supporting the I.C.C.’s prosecution of those cases that advance U.S. interests and values, consistent with the requirements of U.S. law.

Although the United States is not a party to the I.C.C.’s Statute, the Obama administration has been prepared to support the court’s prosecutions and provide assistance in response to specific requests from the I.C.C. prosecutor and other court officials, consistent with U.S. law, when it is in U.S. national interest to do so.

The United States won’t join the ICC because we have to “protect U.S. personnel,” and, hey, if that’s the position you want to take, fine. But you can’t turn around and lecture Uganda and Sudan about how they should conform to the ICC without complaint when you won’t even deign to join the court in the first place.

There’s no word for this other than hypocrisy. International justice is good for other countries, but not for America. We’re above all that.

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