Bruised feelings in Africa lead to special summit on international criminal court

Opinion: Withdrawal option may not garner support across the continent

William Ruto in Kenya’s high court in Nairobi in October 2010. Photograph: Reuters

William Ruto in Kenya’s high court in Nairobi in October 2010. Photograph: Reuters


The growing criticism of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by African states provides a forbidding backdrop to this week’s African Union “extraordinary summit”, a meeting to discuss whether member states should continue their relationship with the body.

A mass withdrawal of African nations from the ICC would seriously compromise the body’s credibility, damage its relationship with the African Union (AU) and undermine its ability to function effectively – all eight of its current cases are drawn from the continent.

Indeed, it is the belief that the ICC has disproportionately targeted Africans since it came into existence over a decade ago that has led a number of African states to openly question the court’s fairness.

The indictment of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, marked the first time the AU began to publicly push back against the ICC. In 2009 it asked the UN Security Council to quash ICC charges against him, saying they were impeding the peace process.

Since then the suspicion that the ICC is being used by the West to target Africans has taken hold, and the recent initiation of proceedings against Kenyan deputy president William Ruto for crimes against humanity has further entrenched this view.

Prosecutors at the Hague- based court allege that Ruto orchestrated ethnic violence after Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election that left more than 1,300 dead. Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta will also be tried by the court this November on charges related to the period.

Mass withdrawal
In response to the court’s decision to prosecute, Kenya’s parliament voted to leave the ICC last month, but the decision has not yet come into law.

Nevertheless, Kenya will be lobbying countries at the summit in Addis Ababa on Friday and Saturday for a mass withdrawal by the 34 AU members that signed the Rome Statute, the legal agreement that established the ICC.

Kenya and its allies would need to rally support to achieve a two-thirds majority in order to instruct AU countries to end their co-operation with the court.

Kenya already has a number of vocal allies in its corner. At Kenyatta’s inauguration ceremony in April, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni accused the ICC of “blackmail”, while the chairman of the AU, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has accused it of “hunting Africans”.

In May, AU member-states voted 53 to one in favour of asking the court to drop the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto, calling for the charges to be dealt with in Kenya’s national courts.

However, while Kenya appears to have strong support in the East African region, countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo are said to be strong supporters of the ICC.

Senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Jemima Kariri says it is unlikely that Kenya will be able to rally enough support to achieve its goal. But, she says, “the AU will come up with requests in relation to the trial . . . They may ask that the ICC refrain from calling the two [Kenyan] principals out of the country at the same time,” she said.

“I do think it is very important that the AU, the ICC and the UN create a platform where the three groups can speak to each other to iron out the issues undermining their relationship,” she said.

Kariri went on to say that the perception that the ICC was out to get Africans was a “misrepresentation” of the facts surrounding the court’s current eight cases.

“Of the eight, five – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Mali – invited the ICC to investigate crimes that had occurred on their territory, while the crimes in Sudan and Libya were referred by the United Nations Security Council.

“The ICC is involved in preliminary investigations in Georgia, Colombia and Venezuela, which shows the focus is not just on Africa,” she said.

The case involving Kenya’s leaders is the only country where the ICC prosecutors used its own initiative to investigate.

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