African groups call for states to back ICC
Countries must support Court at African Union summit
130 groups from across Africa have called on African members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to affirm their support for the court at an extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU) on October 11th and 12th.
The groups, from 34 countries, signed a letter urging African countries to support the ICC as a crucial court of last resort at the special summit, which was called to discuss whether member states should withdraw from the Rome Statute that established the ICC – a move that was precipitated by the controversy over the trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto in relation to crimes against humanity after the December 2007 elections.
The relationship between the ICC and some African governments has faced renewed challenges as the Kenya cases have progressed, the groups said. This has led to increased accusations that the court is targeting Africa.
“Southern Africa was at the forefront of pressing for a permanent international criminal court,” said Angela Mudukuti, International Criminal Justice Programme Project Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “South Africa and other Southern Africa Development Community members should press the AU to work to expand the reach of justice, not cripple it.”
In southern Africa, Botswana has been a vocal proponent of the ICC in the face of recent attacks on the court, but many other African ICC members have remained silent. However, in its September statement to the UN General Assembly, Lesotho expressed strong support for the ICC, and it should reaffirm that support at the Addis summit. Mauritius also adopted legislation to implement the ICC’s treaty domestically in 2011, putting it in a good position to express strong support for the court at the summit.
South Africa will have a critical role to play, which is why SALC has just written letters to South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to urge the country to publicly confirm its support for the ICC and the fight against impunity for genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.
“With exemplary legislation for international crimes and a Constitution committed to human rights and justice, South Africa must speak out at the African Union summit, reaffirming its commitment to the ICC and encouraging other African governments to back the Court – and the fight against impunity for crimes against humanity,” said Angela Mudukuti, SALC’s project lawyer for international criminal justice.
“The credibility and future of the ICC is on the line. South Africa must stand up for international justice.” said Mudukuti.
The ICC’s relationship with certain African governments has come under increasing strain in the past few years with critics accusing the Court of bias against Africa. Indeed, Kenya’s parliament recently passed a motion to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
However, the majority of the cases currently before the ICC were actually brought by the countries where atrocities were committed – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Mali. Two other situations, Darfur and Libya, were referred by the United Nations Security Council, with the support of its African members.
Kenya is the only country where the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC used its own investigative initiative, after obtaining authorisation from the judges of the court – and after it became clear that the international crimes committed during the post-election violence would not be properly investigated, let alone prosecuted, by the Kenyan authorities.
“African countries played a critical role in the formation of the ICC and – if countries like South Africa do not pledge their support to it now – could play a major part in its downfall,” said Mudukuti. “The only people celebrating if that happens will be the architects of the world’s worst crimes. South Africa must stand up for ordinary Africans who continue to back the ICC and, most importantly, for the victims of international crimes, who deserve to see justice done.”
The work and functioning of the ICC should not be beyond scrutiny and improvement, but withdrawal would risk grave consequences of undermining justice in Africa.
“This year Nigeria and Ghana both acknowledged the ICC as a crucial court of last resort, and are thus well placed to play a positive leadership role at the summit,” said Chinonye Obiagwu, National Coordinator at Nigeria’s Legal Defense and Assistance Project. “They should actively push back against unprincipled attacks on the court and support the ICC’s ability to operate without interference, including in Kenya.”
The Nigerian government reaffirmed a “firm commitment to the Rome Statute” and “readiness for continued cooperation with ICC to put an end to impunity” in a recent filing to the ICC.
Meanwhile, President John Drimana Mahama of Ghana told France24 after an AU summit meeting in May, “I think the ICC has done an amazing job in bringing some people who have committed genocide and mass murder to justice.”
However, a number of powerful African countries – and influential African leaders – are lining up against the Court so the outcome is far from clear.