African leaders adopt strategy for mass withdrawal from ICC

The headquarters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. PHOTO/Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images

ICC has focused too narrowly on Africa

African leaders on Tuesday adopted a strategy calling for a collective withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The non-binding decision came behind closed doors near the end of an African Union (AU) summit.

It was the latest expression of impatience by African leaders with the court, which some say has focused too narrowly on Africa while pursuing cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Late last year, Burundi, Gambia and South Africa all announced plans to leave the court, leading to concerns that other states would follow.

The move follows similar announcements from Burundi and South Africa, who informed the then United Nations (UN) Secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, of their decision to quit the court, making them the first countries to begin the year-long exit process in the court’s 18-year history.

Burundi’s parliament has claimed the court is merely “a political tool used by foreign powers to remove whoever they want from power on the African continent”.
South Africa announced it would be leaving the court on similar grounds, arguing that the ICC’s Rome statutes were at odds with its own laws granting leaders diplomatic immunity.

“International Caucasian Court”

There have been a number of complaints that the ICC is biased, and some politicians have denounced the tribunal as an instrument of colonial justice – Gambia’s former Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, called the institution “The International Caucasian Court”.
Of the 10 cases being investigated by the court, 9 involve African countries, including all 3 trials. So far, ICC arrest warrants have only ever been issued for Africans.

Thirty three African states have ratified the Rome statute that established the ICC, making Africa the largest continental bloc – the perception that it targets Africans exclusively has left the court vulnerable. As a result, the court is facing what appears to be a coordinated revolt that risks destroying its legitimacy.

Desire Assogbavi, head of Oxfam International’s liaison office to the summit, confirmed the adoption of the strategy.
A source close to the AU’s legal council also confirmed it, saying countries had been divided on whether to call for leaving the court individually or together.

A draft of the strategy, obtained by the reporters, recommends that African countries strengthen their own judicial mechanisms and expand the jurisdiction of the African court of justice and human rights “in order to reduce the deference to the ICC”.

Source: Associated Press