Maybe you've heard of Danica Patrick. She drives cars really fast. Sometimes faster than the boys. I have eyes for only one beautiful lady, but I'm told Danica is also pretty easy on the eye; a marketer's dream. Recently her stardom rose inexorably closer to its zenith as she set a first by winning pole for the Daytona 500. It's a really big deal, if you're interested in that type of thing.
A less well reported female first was that of the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Simone Gbagbo. This was 'unsealed' - as the terminology dictates - in November 2012 in pursuit of the former First Lady of Côte d'Ivoire. Mrs Gbagbo has a case to answer in The Hague for crimes against humanity, murder, rape, sexual violence, inhumane acts and persecution.1 As with most people who the ICC have issued warrants for, Mrs Gbagbo is a long way from making an appearance in the dock.
Criticisms of the international criminal justice system (ICC, ICTY, ICTR etc) are not hard to find, or to agree with. High on the list of criticisms is that not enough is happening, and what is happening is not happening quickly enough. Those with cases to answer seem to be struck down with all manner of illnesses and deteriorating health associated with old age. A cynic would note that trials being overtaken by incapacity of the defendant due to old age is hardly testimony to the wheels of justice clocking up RPM's in Danica Patrick territory, while a greater cynic may raise a knowing eyebrow at the curious correllation between feeling under the weather and having to mount a defence against charges of genocide. Furthermore the ICC is to a great degree an institution of justice to which a nation volunteers to be bound to. Some 70% of the world's population is beyond its reach2. You'll find the state run by your common-or-garden authoritarian madman tends not to get involved – nor too do Russia, China or the US. Which of these latter states fall in to both categories I shall leave to the reader's discretion.
Yes the UN Security Council can refer cases to the ICC, but realistically this isn't going to happen to any nation that is an ally of a veto holding member of the Security Council. Another criticism is that the ICC is excessively focussed on Africa. Well, with so many avenues closed off to its investigations, and such a bountiful supply of genocidal suspects in certain African countries, it would seem that there is a plausible explanation for the regional imbalance of cases under review.
Back to Simone Gbagbo. She is currently detained in Côte d'Ivoire where she faces trial before a national court for a number of charges – including genocide. The current regime in the west African state is considering whether to fulfil the warrant and present her to the ICC. It's not something that they are expected to do, for she may be the tin-opener for the can of worms.
For all Danica Patrick's profile she has tasted victory just the once in some 180 races in her IndyCar and NASCAR career. She has taken her defeats gracefully. The same can't be said for Mr and Mrs Gbagbo who refused to recognize their defeat in the 2010 Côte d'Ivoire presidential run off, and so triggered five months of killing, rape and brutal torture resulting in some 3,000 deaths along ethnic and political lines carried out by forces loyal to the outgoing President Laurent Gbabgo, and also those of the incoming - and current - President Alassane Ouattara. It has been documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a United Nations mandatated commission of inquiry that both sides committed war crimes, and likely, crimes against humanity.3
There have been over 150 people charged with crimes following the post-election killing spree. All of these have been individuals loyal to the Gbabgo regime4. No member of Ouattara's forces have been charged, though the reigning President assures the international community that investigations are ongoing and that justice will be impartial for crimes committed during the post-election period. This or course carries all the resonance of a teenager promising his mother he'll turn off his Playstation "in a minute" to clean his bedroom.
The cases from the ICC against the Ouattara faction are very slow moving. For 3,000 deaths, with two distinct parties culpable, only two warrants have been issued - and they both to one side of the conflict: "His & Hers" matching warrants in fact, to Simone Gbabgo, and her husband, the former President Laurent Gbabgo. The (reluctant) ex-President was handed over to The Hague, and this week will sit before the ICC and hear confirmation of charges. This is not a trial, rather an opportunity for the prosecution to convince the ICC that there is sufficient evidence against Laurent Gbabgo to warrant a trial. There have been a number of false starts to this part of the proceedings due to the obligatory bout of ill-health which has struck the defendant, but it does look as if the case will advance in the coming days.
At this point it seems that victor's Justice is the only justice in town. President Ouattara has handed over his enemy to the ICC in an attempt to placate the international community while ensuring he can manage domestic justice in accordance with who he wishes to prosecute and who he wishes to exonerate. Handing over Simone Gbabgo would undermine his own legal proceedings, and would perhaps then shift attention to his own role in the violence. Of course should it ever come to pass, being a reigning President with an outstanding warrant from the ICC would not give Ouattara an entry in the book of firsts alongside his nemesis' wife and Danica Patrick. President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan beat him to it some four years ago and still holds on to power as his forces and their proxies continue to indulge in slaughter in Darfur.