The relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and African states is coming under renewed scrutiny at the 27th African Union Summit, currently taking place in Kigali, Rwanda. The outcome of the summit for ICC-African relations will be determined over the coming weeks, but various civil society actors and pro-ICC advocates have been doing whatever they can to improve the relationship between the Court and continent. The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA)* is one of those groups. Over the weekend, the AGJA published an important and balanced op-ed in The Guardian (as well as other news outlets) on its view of the ICC-Africa relationship. The op-ed acknowledges the leadership of African states on matters of justice for mass atrocities and insists that all sides can do a better job and need to take responsibility for accountability on the continent. Moreover, it calls those African states who insist they support the ICC to stand up and speak up. For those interested, here’s a snippet:
In popular accounts, Africa and the international criminal court are pitted against each other. The ICC is derided as being “biased” against Africa, ignorant of the attitudes and desires of Africans, even neocolonial.
In reality, the relationship suffers from misinformation and misunderstandings. Many parties share responsibility for this. Some African leaders have, on occasion, decried the ICC in order to protect themselves from the court’s scrutiny.
Equally, the ICC has not been able to communicate its message effectively on the continent, leaving it susceptible to misrepresentation by those who seek to undermine the institution.
Some insist that the ICC has no place in Africa and that African states must withdraw from the court because the institution has intervened primarily in African conflicts, while situations outside the continent are not investigated. However, it makes little sense to suggest that because justice cannot be served everywhere, justice should not be served anywhere. Such an attitude insults victims and survivors alike.
Why has the ICC focused its investigations almost exclusively on Africa? Well, can anyone argue that the situations in Africa where the court has opened official investigations – northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Sudan, Kenya,Libya, Ivory Coast and Mali – are not deserving of an ICC intervention?
Never before has so much been done on the African continent to achieve accountability for international crimes. We welcome the trial of Hissène Habré in Senegal, Central African Republic’s plan to set up a special criminal court, South Sudan’s proposed hybrid tribunal, and the expansion of the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include international crimes.
While none is perfect in itself, these and other recent developments point to a continent with the potential to take a leadership role in international criminal justice, if its leaders keep their pledges.
The ICC must do a better job of responding to overt attempts to politicise its mandate. It must not only do justice, but be seen to be doing justice by being more effective, robust and responsive.
African states are friends of the ICC. African states have continued to refer situations to the ICC. Africans hold the most senior positions in the court. African states fund the institution.
Many African officials and diplomats say they have no intention of leaving the Rome statute system. We call on these governments to speak loudly and courageously in the fight against impunity – both in Africa and beyond.
You can read the whole op-ed, here.
* Full Disclosure: I am the Research Director of the Wayamo Foundation, which acts as the secretariat for the AGJA.