Why African states are leav­ing the ICC

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Un­til last week, no coun­try had with­drawn from the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. Now, three African states South Africa, Bu­rundi and Gambia - have made of­fi­cial de­ci­sions to leave. Gambia an­nounced its de­ci­sion late Tues­day. Con­cerns are high that more African coun­tries now will act on years of threats to pull out amid ac­cu­sa­tions that the court un­fairly fo­cuses on the con­ti­nent. Here’s a look at what it all means.

Some­one to take on geno­cide

Many in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity cheered when the treaty to cre­ate the ICC, the Rome Statute, was adopted in 1998 as a way to pur­sue some of the world’s worst atroc­i­ties: geno­cide, war crimes and crimes against hu­man­ity. Not all coun­tries signed on, and as of last week, the treaty had 124 mem­ber states. Notable coun­tries that have not joined in­clude the United States, China, Rus­sia and In­dia. Some coun­tries are wary of The Hague, Nether­lands-based court’s pow­ers, see­ing it as po­ten­tial in­ter­fer­ence.

Frus­tra­tions and threats

Only Africans have been charged in the six ICC cases that are on­go­ing or about to be­gin, though pre­lim­i­nary ICC in­ves­ti­ga­tions have been opened else­where in the world, in places like Colom­bia and Afghanistan. Ex­perts point out that all but one of the ICC cases in Africa were re­ferred to the court by African coun­tries them­selves or the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. One case that caused con­sid­er­able anger among African lead­ers was the ICC’s pur­suit of Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta for his al­leged role in the deadly vi­o­lence that erupted after his coun­try’s 2007 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The case later col­lapsed amid pros­e­cu­tion claims of in­ter­fer­ence with wit­nesses and non­co­op­er­a­tion by Kenyan au­thor­i­ties. The African Union has called for im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion for heads of state, and Ugan­dan Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni at his in­au­gu­ra­tion in May - with Al-Bashir in at­ten­dance de­clared the ICC to be “use­less.”

The trav­els of Al-Bashir

Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar Al-Bashir has be­come a sym­bol of the lim­i­ta­tions fac­ing the ICC, which does not have a po­lice force and re­lies on the co­op­er­a­tion of mem­ber states. Al-Bashir has been wanted by the tri­bunal for al­leged geno­cide and other crimes in Su­dan’s Dar­fur re­gion after the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil first re­ferred the case to the ICC in 2005. Since then, how­ever, AlBashir has vis­ited a num­ber of ICC mem­ber states, in­clud­ing Malawi, Kenya, Chad and Congo. His visit to South Africa in June 2015 caused up­roar, and he quickly left as a court there or­dered his ar­rest. The ICC has no power to com­pel coun­tries to ar­rest peo­ple and can only tell them they have a le­gal obli­ga­tion to do it. —AP

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