African Union to quit International Criminal Court?

Tue, 23 Feb 2016 Source: Larweh Therson-Cofie

Founded on the basis of the Rome Statute adopted on July 17, 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an international organisation and tribunal based in The Hague, The Netherlands.

It started functioning on July 1, 2002 after the Rome Statute was adopted by the Rome Statute, the ICC is empowered to prosecute individuals of any rank or status for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The ICC is intended to complement existing national judicial systems and may, therefore, only exercise its jurisdiction when national courts are unwilling to prosecute criminals or when the United Nations or individual states refer investigations to the court.”

The President of ICC is Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi. The current Prosecutor is Mrs Fatou Bensouda from the Gambia the Registrar is Herman Von Hebel.

As of May, 2015, 123 countries agreed to be parties to the Rome Statute and are, therefore, member-states of the ICC.

The ICC is controlled entirely by the Assembly of States that are parties to the Rome Statute.

All officials of the court, including the President, Prosecutor and Registrar, are elected by the Assembly that also approves the ICC budget and makes amendments to the Rome Statute.

The Assembly also prescribes rules of procedure and evidence and have oversight jurisdiction on the ICC.

ICC membership includes – South American countries, almost all European nations, and nearly all countries of Oceania and close to half of African countries.

By the Statute of Rome, member-states are to refrain from “acts which will defeat the object and purpose” of the treaty.

Any member-state can opt out by informing the UN Secretary-General that it intends to do so.

The African Union (AU) is an international organisation of 54 African states. It is a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) founded in 1963.

Since its inception, the ICC has carried out investigations concerning nine countries of the world.

Eight of those countries are African – Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and Mali. The only country outside Africa is Georgia in Eastern Europe.

Persons of African origin that have been charged by the ICC prosecutor include the following: Joseph Koni, a Ugandan rebel leader; President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan; President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his Vice-President, William Ruto; former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi and former Cote D’Ivoire President, Laurent Gbagbo.

The fact that all but one persons indicted by the ICC are Africans has provoked virulent criticisms of the international court and its actions and decisions.

The African Union has, because of the criticisms, approved demands by some African countries for Africa to pull out of the ICC.

At a two-day conference that ended on January 31, 2016, at Addis Ababa, member-states of the AU approved a proposal by Kenya for Africa to quit the ICC.

Reasons advanced for the proposed withdrawal include what was termed “unfair targeting of Africa and Africans”.

Newly-elected Chairman of AU, President Idris Deby of Chad, has chided the ICC at the recent AU meeting for allegedly targeting African leaders.

The theme for the January summit was “protecting human rights” but decisions taken at the meeting on withdrawal is not binding on member-states of the AU. It is up to each African country to decide to quit or remain faithful to the Statute of Rome.

According to a Kenyan presidential statement, the AU’s decision was a “proposal… for the AU to develop a roadmap for the withdrawal of African nations”.

So far, the Sudan has pulled out of the ICC and some African countries, including Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, have expressed their intention to quit.

In 2013, the Kenyan Parliament voted to pull Kenya out but President Kenyatta has, so far, not appended his signature to the legislation to make it effective.

However, not all African nations share the views of their AU colleagues on quitting. Some African political and opinion leaders have stated bluntly that withdrawal is a big mistake.

“Leaving the ICC with no credible mechanism for justice for mass crimes in sight would be an error of colossal proportions,” the Daily Nation newspaper of Kenya, wrote in its editorial.

“It is better for member-states to stay in the court and advocate reforms rather than bolting and leaving millions on the continent unprotected by an international court which can step in when national institutions fail,” the Daily Nation stated.

It is surprising, in the final analysis, that the AU and some African leaders have contemplated leaving the ICC for allegedly targeting African leaders unfairly and unlawfully.

There is nothing in the Rome Statute with the prescribed process and procedures of the ICC that suggests that it operates unfairly and illegally.

As spelt out in the Rome Statute, the ICC is governed by its Assembly of Member-states which appoints ICC officials, including the president and judges, the prosecutor and the registrar.

The Assembly also has supervisory jurisdiction over the ICC and is responsible for amendments to the Rome Statute.

It is clear that the AU’s decision to leave the ICC is a misjudgement and a calculated attempt to cover wrong doing and escape sanctions.

It is better to face the international court to prove ones innocence than to run away from the law, the truth and justice.

Columnist: Larweh Therson-Cofie