African Union officials meeting over the weekend urged the International Criminal Court to postpone cases against sitting leaders. Leaders of the 54-member African Union contend that a pattern of bias exists within the ICC, making fair trials of African leaders impossible. Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesys, stated, “We are deeply troubled by the fact that a sitting head of state and his deputy are for the first time being tired in an international court, which infringes on the sovereignty of Kenya and undermines…the country’s reconciliation and reform process.”
The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to prosecute claims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The organization’s charter provides that the ICC is not a substitute for domestic legal proceedings and that the organization shall defer to national courts, only becoming involved when the national court system is unable or unwilling to address questions of justice. The court is currently hearing a case against Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, is scheduled to appear in court next month. The court has also heard cases or issued warrants against leaders in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda. The court has yet to hear cases against any government outside of Africa, although it is conducting investigations into situations in Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia, Honduras, and Korea.
The International Criminal Court operates under the principle of voluntary jurisdiction, meaning that unless a case is explicitly referred to it by the United Nations Security Council, it can generally only deal with cases against citizens of countries that are party to the Rome Statute that created the organization. Three countries, the United States, Israel, and Sudan, have informed the United Nations that they are withdrawing from the Rome Statute and therefore have no legal obligations under the agreement.
As a result of the perception that the ICC has focused on prosecuting African leaders, several other African states, including Kenya, are considering withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the ICC. The NGO Human Rights Watch has urged the countries not to withdraw, asserting that “Any withdrawal fro the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and to reject impunity.” But with the perception of bias within the ICCC growing, African leaders may face no alternative.
What do you think? Has the ICC demonstrated bias against African leaders? Would such bias justify a withdrawal of African Member States from the International Criminal Court? And what other signals might such a withdrawal send? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.