South Africa’s move to file ‘divorce proceedings’ against the ICC leaves global court in disarray

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir poses for a group photograph with other African leaders who attended the 25th AU summit in South Africa last year.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (centre in blue suit) poses for a group photograph with other African leaders who attended the 25th AU summit in South Africa last year.

By Henry D Gombya and Jessica A Badebye

The renowned International Criminal Court (ICC) that begun to function in 2002 with the primary objection of prosecuting and bringing to justice those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, stands on the verge of total disarray after four African countries have voted with their feet and indicated they will return their memberships.

Gambia, the country that currently has the honour of having one of its citizens, Fatou Bensouda in the ICC’s top post of prosecutor, this week joined South Africa, Burundi and Namibia to indicate it was commencing ‘divorce proceedings’ from the august body. The move by four African countries to indicate their unwillingness to continue as bona fide members of the ICC follows repeated claims by African countries that the ICC was focusing its attention to mostly the 34 African countries that are members than the rest of the 122-member state countries. Accusing the ICC of being biased, Gambia’s information minister, Sheriff Bojang said: “The ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an “International Caucasian Court” for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” He further noted that since the creation of the ICC there are at least 30 western countries that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted. African leaders have continually accused the ICC of allowing to be used as a tool for western imperial interests in Africa in addition to targeting the continent, yet crimes which are committed outside Africa are left untouched. Africa’s anger at the way the ICC has conducted its criminal proceedings stems from the fact that as of now, only one case currently being heard at The ICC court in The Hague is non-African. Many African countries have claimed the ICC seems to be singling out African countries for prosecution.

Following an emergency debate in the Kenyan parliament three years ago, Kenyan MPs voted that ‘divorce proceedings’ to leave the ICC be placed in motion.  Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been quoted as having called the ICC ‘the toy of declining imperial powers’. While the move to vote to leave the ICC by countries like Kenya, whose president and deputy president have been humiliated by being hauled, while in office, before the court to answer charges of crimes against humanity can be understood, that of South Africa, the continent’s most powerful African country below the Sahara to announce recently it was leaving the ICC membership, may prove one of the hardest blows that the ICC’s credibility has suffered since its inception. Africa has also been greatly angered by the influence exerted by countries like the United States who aren’t signatories to the ICC Rome Statute, in influencing the decisions of The Hague-based ICC.

In 2012 Malawi turned down the opportunity to host the AU summit after it became clear that Sudan’s autocratic leader, Gen Omar al-Bashir would be invited by the AU to attend the summit. Instead of accepting the AU invitation for someone wanted by the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, Malawi became the first ever African country to refuse to host the continent’s most important annual gathering. It was subsequently moved to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa the same year and whose leader Hailemariam Desalegn has since described the ICC of being racially biased and of ‘hunting Africans’. Another of Africa’s few democratic countries, Namibia, has already indicated it is also leaving the ICC which it accuses of trying to tell Africans how they should be governed.

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