Column: When peace and justice collide

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Last Friday was a big day at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was charged with multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Resplendent in a grey suit and red tie, Mr Bemba looked like a respectable statesman. But he is charged with grave crimes, including the use of mass rape as an instrument of war.

It was the sort of moment that advocates of the ICC always dreamt of. But, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, the ICC is facing its own indictment. Its critics charge that its work is often counter-productive, politicised and plain incompetent. The dream of universal, international justice is in danger of turning into a nightmare.

In theory, the ICC can serve two vital purposes. It provides justice for victims. It may also deter future atrocities. Angelina Jolie, an actress, summed up these hopes when she wrote last year in The Economist that: “Only through justice will we achieve peace.”

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