The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 15, 2006

Off the Cuff: Benson Chinedu Olugbuo

Benson Chinedu Olugbuo is the Anglophone Africa Coordinator for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court — an organization composed of over 2000 non-governmental organizations all advocating for a fair, effective International Criminal Court. It is his job not only to recruit states into the CICC but to push the states, once joined, to ratify the statutes and pass the legislation that will make their participation meaningful. In his second trip to the United States, Olugbuo participated in a symposium on law and justice at Yale University and spoke to students at Oberlin about the importance of international justice. Here, he speaks with the Review about the workings of the CICC and his dedication to international justice.

How did you decide you wanted to be involved with NGO’s and specifically with the CICC?
I think I’ve always had an interest in issues of justice. I did internships with National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and Global Rights: Partners for Justice before proceeding to the University of Pretoria, South Africa for my [law] degree. I also won the UBUNTU prize in Pretoria in 2003.

    The CICC already had people who were working for them in Africa, but I think they wanted to restructure the organization. They now decided to create some prominent positions in Africa like Anglophone [and] Francophone [coordinators] and so forth. At the University of Pretoria, I wrote my dissertation on the “Domestic Implementation of the Rome Statute in Africa.” I was working with the International Bar Association in London as a legal intern in 2004 after [graduation] when a colleague sent me the advertisement for this job and said to me, “I think this is your job!”

    Also, I went to Rwanda on a trip in 2003 and got firsthand experience about genocide and how it has affected the country.

I wonder if you could talk about what an average day or week of your work entails. I imagine it involves a lot of traveling.
Yeah, basically I use a laptop that is connected to the Internet. I am always in coordination with the headquarters in New York, which is sometimes six hours [time] difference in Nigeria. Basically what I do is review emails, review documentations, get updates from our members working in the field and if there are particular issues to be addressed, I review them. I also travel from one country to another in Africa advocating for the domestic implementation of the Rome Statute [which established an international criminal court] and building the capacity of our members.

What message do you think is most important to impart while you are here in the US, particularly when speaking at colleges?

I think one of the most important things for College students to know about is…issues of advocacy, especially relating to world peace. Currently in Africa, there are three investigations by the International Criminal Court: Uganda, the  Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. We believe the US should be part of the ICC. The US should play an important role in becoming involved in the international criminal court.

What do you think would be the best way to get the US to join the ICC?

I think the US is all about the citizens. So if the citizens believe that it is a good cause then the congress will vote for it. The power belongs to the people. So it is the people that make the change.

There are over 2000 NGOs that are members of the CICC. It’s amazing that so many organizations can get behind one cause, but a coalition that large must also have its problems. Can you talk a little about its benefits and its drawbacks?
The interesting thing about it is…there are organizations that are working on children’s rights. There are organizations that are working on economic rights. There are organizations that are working on social justice. But there is a connection between all these organizations – that is the need for international justice. That is its strength.

    But the drawback of having 2000 organizations is that there is literally no position that is like, “This is the position of the CICC on this issue,” because each organization has its own positions, its own ideas, its own mandates. Because it is a little hard for you to agree on behalf of 2000 members. So what the CICC does is provide venues and opportunities for those organizations to express themselves.

What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your position right now?
I think the biggest challenge is domestic implementation of the Rome Statute. Because we have about 104 participating states. We have 29 states in Africa, and only one has fully implemented the Rome Statute.

What do you think the Court has the most power to do or change?
I think the court will have the potential of being a deterrent. Making sure that individuals who plan to commit these crimes will not have such notions again…the court will hold them responsible for their actions, irrespective of your status or how you lie. Improving the criminal justice system will give states the opportunity to hold their own citizens accountable.

What do you think is the biggest issue right now that the courts need to address?
Well, I think some of the conflicts are ongoing, which makes it a little tricky for the court. Because, you know, if you look at the setting up of the tribunal for Rwanda, this court was set up after the conflict was almost ended. So it is a difficult thing for the court now, especially when the conflicts are on ongoing, because it becomes easy for the court to be used as a political tool.

    Right now, you can only hold responsible a few individuals as a deterrent to other people. And I think that this issue is closely related to the need for the US to become part of the court. Because as long as the US is not part of the court, it is very difficult for the Court to have the regard, support and cooperation that it needs. One of the things I’ve been telling the students is that they need to be proactive in making sure that the US takes a positive position on the Darfur crisis, and if need be, to make sure that the US becomes a role-player in the activities of the court.


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