As the International Criminal Court (ICC) has marked the 20th anniversary of its foundation, the member countries are called upon to step up efforts to support the Court in the face of increasing challenges to delivering justice. But some African countries are currently threatening to leave the ICC.
The Court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, was adopted 20 years ago on July 17, 1998. Over these two decades, African leaders have gone from strongly supporting this institution to accusing the court, with some claiming the court is taking a heavy-handed approach against African nations, testing their sovereignty and putting policymakers on the line for outside persecution.
There is the general perception, among several African governments, that the institution is an imperialist tool of the West to pursue its interests. It is shocking to see that countries that actively participated in the ICC establishment now want to leave it because, they argue, it has become a neocolonialist and racist institution. A key criticism raised by some African leaders is that the court is unfairly targeting Africans, while ignoring war crimes suspects in other parts of the world.
These accusations, are unfounded because Africa is amply represented in the ICC. African countries were actively involved in the establishment of the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute and besides, there are a number of Africans who occupy high-level positions at the Court, such as the Deputy Prosecutor.
Forty-three African countries are currently signatories to the Rome Statute of the ICC and thirty African states have ratified the Rome Statute, making Africa the most heavily represented region in the Court’s membership. In addition, three of the four situations currently under investigation at the ICC were referred to the Court by African governments themselves.
Between 2003 and 2005, the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and the Central African Republic referred situations on their own territory to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. These governments, all of whom are states parties to the Rome Statute, recognized the inability of their national courts to address the grave crimes at issue and therefore requested the Court to open investigations in accordance with the complementary principle of the Rome Statute.
The honeymoon between Africa and the Court came to an end when ICC began to investigate crimes committed by African leaders while in office. In 2009, the ICC issued the first arrest warrant for Sudan’s President, Omar El-Beshir, for the crimes committed in Darfur.
In 2011it issued an arrest warrant for the then Libya’s President Muammar Gaddafi, citing evidence of crimes against humanity committed against political opponents.
On December 2010, prior to him becoming president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta was named as a suspect of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal and in January 2012, the Court confirmed the charges against him. On that occasion several African nations asked ICC to suspend cases against President Kenyatta.
In reality, what happens between the ICC and Africa has nothing to do with neocolonialism. The issue is very simple, a handful of leaders are afraid that the ICC might also investigate them over crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.
African civil society organizations and people, on the other hand, massively support the ICC. More than 800 African civil society organizations are members of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), representing approximately one-third of the Coalition’s global membership. According to them, the ICC is an institution that works seriously to end impunity and atrocities in the continent. Africa should stick with the Rome Statute.