AFRICA GEARS FOR EXODUS FROM ICC

South Africa's decision to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent a reminder to the world that Africa is determined to leave the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal.

Uganda, which was the first country to take a case to The Hague-based ICC, is arguing that in January, when African leaders gather for a continental summit in Ethiopia, many countries will announce their decision to leave the Court which they accuse of being biased against Africa.

"Uganda will pronounce its position (withdrawing from ICC) during the next African Union (AU) summit (in January 2017) in Addis Ababa. We expect other countries to do so. We need all the African countries to leave ICC in unison," Okello Oryem, Uganda's state minister for international affairs said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

At an AU summit held in Rwanda in July, African leaders voted by a huge margin in favour of a proposal for its member states to withdraw from the ICC jurisdiction. Following this decision, South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, notified the UN of its decision to leave. Gambia and Burundi have also said they are leaving although they have not yet followed the required legal procedures to quit.

African states played a critical role in ratifying the Rome Statute, which was the founding treaty of the ICC. Back then, they saw the initiative as critical in punishing perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the world.

As a sign of belief in the Court, Uganda, in 2002 was the first country to take a case to the court seeking redress regarding top commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who were accused of committing heinous crimes in the northern part of this East African country.

Since then, several warlords, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have appeared before the Court. When the Court started looking at African leaders, for instance, issuance of summons to Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta's appearance before the Court, sent chills among the leaders.

Many leaders started seeing it as being biased against Africa, arguing that the ICC is turning a blind eye to heinous crimes committed elsewhere in the world.

"We have been telling ICC to listen to the concerns of African leaders but they chose to ignore. If ICC had listened, this situation (withdrawals) would have not happened. They chose to listen and push the agenda of our former colonial masters," said Oryem, Uganda's Minister for International Affairs.

"We have no problem with any legal framework and body that monitors human rights abuses, violations, war crimes and genocide. But it has to be fair to Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Americas. ICC is not that body. It is basically targeting Africans."

Not all African countries are pro-withdrawal. Senegal and Botswana have criticized South Africa's move to quit the Court.

Experts argue that Africa's withdrawal from ICC would render the Court toothless in providing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They also caution that the move would have an effect of condoning impunity on the continent since those in power would not be answerable to anyone.

"This is particularly true given that there is no regional mechanism to step in when domestic courts in Africa, many of which are too weak to challenge political elites and those in power, fail to do so," Alex Fielding, a political analyst at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm, told Xinhua.

Phil Clark, an international relations lecturer at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told Xinhua that those in power may have intentions of protecting themselves from international scrutiny and the domestic pressure that can be exerted through being a signatory to the Rome Statute.

The ICC argues that the world should stay united in fighting against impunity, which often causes massive violations of human rights.

"The international community must remain united to face the enormous challenge of preventing the commission of such crimes, prosecuting the alleged perpetrators, whoever they are and wherever they are, to ensure peace, stability and security of our States," said Sidiki Kaba, the President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute in an Oct 22 statement.

He said the ICC needs the strong support of the international community and the cooperation of member states to ensure its effectiveness and strengthen its credibility.

Fielding argues that during the 15th annual session of the ICC Assembly of States Parties, scheduled for Nov 16 to 24 in the Netherlands, Kaba and his regional allies should lead a diplomatic offensive to find a consensus and slow the withdrawal movement.

"As to the ICC itself, it should continue to focus on the victims and work to ensure that the message is being delivered by more African non-governmental organizations, lawyers, regional organizations, activists, and government officials, rather than from The Hague," he said.

He said the ICC's public diplomacy and outreach should be improved, to better deliver the message that the Court is an impartial entity that seeks to ensure justice for victims.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK.