Africa and the ICC

This resource argues that African countries should continue to work with the ICC, despite some of the disparities in how the court has tried cases so far. Read this and consider the arguments in favor and against the court from the perspective of African countries.

"Our own continent has suffered enough horrors emanating from the inhumanity of human beings towards human beings. Who knows, many of these might not have occurred, or at least been minimized, had there been an effectively functioning International Criminal Court."
—Nelson Mandela

Setting the Facts Straight

With nine of the first ten ICC investigations located in Africa, some African leaders have claimed that the ICC is unfairly targeting the continent and is a tool of "western neo-colonialism."

The ICC's detractors have tried to rally a mass withdrawal of African states from the Rome Statute system of international justice. They have failed in this, but a few indivdual African states have indicated intent to leave the ICC. To date, only Burundi looks set to complete the withdrawal process at the end of 2017.

For over 20 years, our Coalition has comprised Africa civil society groups, victim associations and human rights activists that have led the call for justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Either through national judicial systems or through the ICC.

African governments and civil society played a leading role in championing the ICC from the outset in the mid 1990s. And they continue to do so.

It is well known that the application of international justice is uneven. There are many situations around the world that warrant ICC investigations and prosecutions. The solution therefore lies in more justice, not less.

Using its unique experience with the formative ICC, Africa can lead the fight for a truly global international justice system.

Key Facts on the ICC and Africa

Six out of the nine African situations under ICC investigation came about as a result of requests or grants of jurisdiction by African governments – Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Uganda, and twice the Central African Republic.

Two other investigations in Africa, involving the Darfur region of Sudan and Libya, were referred to the court by the United Nations Security Council, with African states on the Council either voting for or abstaining. None voted against these two referrals.

In Kenya, the ICC prosecutor received the authorization of an ICC pre-trial chamber to open investigations after the government of Kenya repeatedly failed to investigate the 2007-08 post-election violence domestically.

In 2016, Gabon called on the ICC to investigate alleged Rome Statute crimes committed in the country, prompting the opening of a preliminary examination.

In January 2016, the ICC prosecutor opened the court’s first formal investigation outside Africa – into Georgia.

The ICC is conducting several preliminary examinations of situations outside Africa – including in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Palestine, and into alleged crimes attributed to the armed forces of the United Kingdom deployed in Iraq, and alleged crimes by Ukrainian, separatist, and Russian forces in Ukraine since 2013.

There is no consensus in the Africa Union to leave the ICC. The 2016 meeting of the African Union in fact saw several states oppose a motion for withdrawal en masse, the first time in many years the regional body had failed push the resolution through. A decision to withdraw from the Statute is up to individual states, not the AU.

The anti-ICC backlash first intensified after the 2009 ICC arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was issued alleging his responsibility for serious crimes committed in Darfur.

Many African governments cooperate frequently with the ICC in its investigations and preliminary examinations.

Many of African states have amended their constitutions in line with the Rome Statute to ensure domestic accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The post-colonial conflicts that beset a large part of the African continent for decades have often featured those in power committing serious international crimes with unimaginable levels of impunity. In Africa, victims of serious crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, have endured injustice for far too long.

Within many African countries, particularly those that have gone through or are still going through prolonged conflict, national judicial systems remain weak. Existing local justice mechanisms in the majority of African countries are just incapable of dispensing credible justice, especially when those responsible for crimes are the powerful, and in many cases leaders in society.

The majority of African countries lack legislation that fully incorporates Rome Statute definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes into domestic law, making international justice mechanisms like the ICC the most reliable avenues to achieving justice for victims and punishing perpetrators.

African Civil Society Comment

“The reasons why we supported the establishment of a permanent court as Africa have not changed. The only thing that has changed is that now leaders are being held to account.” – Stella Ndirangu of the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya

“To say that the ICC is targeting Africa, I think, is a misrepresentation of the situation. It’s more Africans making use of the court they helped to create.” – Angela Mudukuti of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre

“The big clash [these days] is over African leaders, the powerful few, who really want impunity for themselves, versus the vast majority, in fact all of the victims of Africa’s continent, who want justice every day.” – Ibrahim Tommy of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law-Sierra Leone

“Governments of the world must support [the] ICC to give justice to victims in Africa.” – Chino Obiagwu of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project of Nigeria, head of the Nigerian Coalition for the ICC

“What the African leaders should be doing is promoting complementarity, strengthening their national jurisdictions to conduct investigations, so stop blaming the ICC for their failures and be able to hold people to account.” – Stephen Lamony, Senior Advisor on AU, UN and Africa Situations, Coalition for the ICC

“African leaders need to talk with the ICC. Africa needs to continue to believe in the ICC. African leaders needs to continue to give its unwavering support to the ICC. Because today the ICC represents a last source of hope for the African people.” – Clement Capo-Chichi, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for the ICC

“Africans want justice, preferably from their own governments if they can and, if not, from the International Criminal Court. The day when African courts become independent, strong and can handle these cases, I think we will see fewer referrals to the ICC.” – Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

Source: Coalition for the International Criminal Court,
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Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2021, 2:45 PM