June 29, 2011 / 9:59 PM / 6 years ago

INTERVIEW-ICC says protecting Africans, not targeting them

* Some critics accuse court of only going after Africans

* ICC’s Bensouda in Ivory Coast after request to investigate

By Tim Cocks

ABIDJAN, June 29 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court’s deputy prosecutor rejected charges it unfairly targets Africa on Wednesday, saying the victims were also African and that indictments were led by referrals from Africans themselves.

In a joint interview with Reuters and France’s TV5 in the Ivorian capital, ICC Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the high rate of referrals in Africa could just as easily show that leaders on the continent were taking their responsibilities to international justice seriously.

Bensouda, a Gambian, is in Ivory Coast to lay the ground work for a possible investigation of war crimes relating to a violent power struggle between President Alassane Ouattara and former president Laurent Gbabgo over a disputed poll.

Critics including African Union president Jean Ping have accused ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of double standards for so far only targeting crimes committed in Africa.

“Any time I hear this about ICC targeting Africa, ICC doing double justice (standards), it saddens me, especially as an African woman,” she said. “Most of these conflicts are happening on the continent ... The ICC’s concentration on Africa is always as a result of the engagement of the African people with ICC.”

In January, the African Union backed a plan by Kenya to call for the U.N. Security Council to defer or suspend trials from taking place for serious crimes committed during its disputed vote at the end of 2007, in which 1,200 were killed.

Kenya wants to try them in its own courts, but the ICC prosecutor argues it failed to take action for years afterwards.

“We say that ICC is targeting Africans, but all of the victims in our cases in Africa are African victims. They are not from another continent. And they’re the ones who are suffering these crimes,” Bensouda said.

She signed a cooperation accord with Ivorian authorities on Tuesday that could pave the way for an investigation into its own armed conflict over a disputed November election. The prosecutor requested authorisation from judges last week.

That election degenerated into violence ending in a war that killed at least 3,000 people before Gbagbo, who refused to step down despite losing the poll, was finally ousted in April.

The deputy prosecutor said the first three cases it took on -- Uganda, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- were all referrals from governments.

“Now if you are telling me that, if we have those referrals from these states, we should say ‘we won’t go there because they are African states’, I am sorry, we will not do that.”

The case against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was brought by the U.N. Security Council. Only in Kenya had the prosecutor himself initiated the proceedings.

“Why don’t we look at the positive side? Why don’t we look at the fact that African leaders are taking leadership in international criminal justice?” Bensouda said.

ICC defenders have also argued that many states still do not have the legal capacity to deal with crimes on such a big scale. Bensouda said the court "takes a back seat" when they do. (Editing by Louise Ireland) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/)

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