Reasonable Doubt: Who is Joseph Kony, and what is the International Criminal Court?

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      Recently, you may have noticed a particular video about Joseph Kony posted by your friends on their Facebook wall or received an email or text message blast with a link to the video. The video is part of the Kony 2012 campaign started by a nonprofit group called Invisible Children.

      Invisible Children is working toward bringing Joseph Kony to justice for abducting children and organizing armies of child soldiers in Uganda. The purpose of the campaign is to make Joseph Kony as famous as your average to A-list Hollywood celebrity.

      In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Joseph Kony; the ICC wants to prosecute Kony for crimes against humanity and war crimes, but in order to do so, he must be present.

      The Invisible Children campaign raises some interesting questions.

      How does an international court work?

      Every state has its own laws and ways of enforcing those laws; here in Canada we have the Criminal Code and criminal courts to ensure that people are tried for the crimes that police have investigated and with which the Crown has charged them. Enforcing the law within a state’s borders is very easy because the state holds a lot of power over its citizens. A citizen does not have the choice to opt out of his or her country’s law.

      It is much harder to create, impose, and enforce laws on an international scale. The reason simply being there is no single power creating and upholding the law. The creation of laws, which are a set of morals, ideals, and standards, requires a meeting of the minds between states. Upholding these laws then requires continued voluntary commitment by these states to comply with the law.

      What is the International Criminal Court and how does it work?

      The ICC is an independent international body which works with the United Nations, but does not fall under its umbrella. It is separate from the International Court of Justice, which is the court that operates within the UN to resolve disputes between UN member states. The ICC came into being around 2002 and exercises its jurisdiction only over states that have signed onto the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

      The ICC is presided over by 18 judges; three of which are elected to lead the 18. Each judge is from a different member state and can serve on the ICC for up to nine years. The prosecutor’s office includes the prosecutor, deputy prosecutors, and staff. The prosecutor is elected by secret ballot by all the member states. The prosecutor’s office is responsible for receiving information and referrals about crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. It is responsible for initiating investigations and prosecuting charges in front of the ICC.

      The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court not only establishes the International Criminal Court, but criminalizes genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

      What are crimes against humanity?

      The definition of crimes against humanity is extensive. It includes crimes such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, or sexual violence that are committed knowingly as part of a widespread or systemic attack against any civilian population.

      What is genocide?

      Genocide occurs when one (or more) of the following five acts is committed on a group with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group:

      1. Killing,

      2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm,

      3. Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction,

      4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births,

      5. Removing children from the group.

      What is a war crime?

      War crimes were initially defined by the Geneva Convention in 1949. The ICC adopts that definition and expands on it. War crimes include (among many other acts) wilful killing, torture, or inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering, extensive destruction of property, and intentionally attacking civilians or people involved in humanitarian assistance not involved in armed conflict.

      How can one person be found guilty of crimes that cannot possibly be perpetrated by only one person?

      The Rome Statute states that a person is individually criminally responsible if they commit one of the crimes in the Statute, even if it was done jointly with someone else. A person is also guilty of the crime if he or she orders, induces, or assists in the commission of the crime perpetrated by someone else. It does not matter whether or not the other person has been convicted.

      One person can be found guilty of genocide if that person is found to have publicly or directly incited other people to commit genocide.

      Finding one person guilty of one of these crimes does not absolve another, nor does it absolve the responsibility of the state in which the crime occurred.

      What happens on conviction?

      The International Criminal Court has the power to order imprisonment (up to life), forfeiture of property or proceeds acquired as a result of the crime, or a fine.

      Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. The column’s writers, Laurel Dietz and Nancy Seto, are criminal defence lawyers at Cobb St. Pierre Lewis. You can send your questions for the column to them at

      A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.




      Mar 10, 2012 at 1:30pm

      Africa is full of Joseph Kony's, murderous, insane messianic warlords who kidnapped child soldiers and butchered thousands. The ICC can't go after any of the Liberian warlords such as the infamous 'General Butt Naked' (yes, his real warlord name.. google it) who sacraficed a kid before every battle and ate his heart because they can only prosecute crimes that happened before 2002.

      Unfortunately this also means Kony will fight to the death and hold out as long as possible, continuing his crimes, kidnapping more kids to bolster his army since he's a wanted man now. What's his incentive to surrender, there is none


      Mar 10, 2012 at 2:05pm

      er AFTER 2002.

      also it would be nice for these guy's to include what that fake charity 'invisible children' is supposed to be doing with it's money. i bet its not supposed to blow $5 million on a propaganda video and campaign when they could've used it to basically rescue every single kid you in that film easily.