African withdrawal from ICC may be the beginning of the end for the court

September 25, 2013 11:18 pm0 comments by:
William Ruto

William Ruto

On September 5, 2013, the Parliament of Kenya voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), citing the defense of their sovereignty and the resistance of international interference in Kenyan political affairs. Kenya became the first country to withdraw from the Rome Statute – the treaty which established the ICC in 1998. This bold move was enacted after Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president of Kenya in March of 2013. Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto were both indicted by the ICC in 2011 for crimes against humanity stemming from the post-election violence that left over 1,200 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Kenyatta and Ruto are charged with inciting and organizing the violence. When Kenyatta and Ruto were elected, the court refused to drop the charges against either defendant and in September of 2013, Ruto became the first acting politician to stand trial in The Hague. However, since Kenyan Parliament is controlled by Ruto and Kenyatta supporters, they moved quickly to strike a blow against the ICC by withdrawing from the court altogether, effectively ending a relationship that began in 2005 when Kenya ratified the Rome Statute.

Now it appears that Kenya may not be the only one frustrated with the court. This sentiment appears to be shared by many leaders across Africa. The distrust is such that on October 13, 2013, representatives from across Africa will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to decide whether the African Union (AU) will lead a mass exodus, following Kenya’s example, and pull-out of the ICC jurisdiction. Currently there are 34 African nations that are signatories to the Rome Statute, the largest representation of any continent. This means that any agreement to leave the court’s jurisdiction would hurt support for the court. Additionally, the AU has already discussed plans in detail about a criminal court for Africa alone, making the ICC obsolete on the continent.

The growing feud between Africa and the ICC has emerged due to many factors. The ICC is seen as a Western tool used to dole out Western justice against its former colonies. There is also an increasing opinion that the ICC has an “Africa bias” as every person that has been indicted on charges at the court has been African, despite other signatory countries from across the globe dealing with violent situations themselves. Also, by indicting Ruto and Kenyatta, as well as the 2008 indictment of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, the ICC has meddled with sitting leaders, challenging national sovereignty. This has created a fear among other African leaders that they could become vulnerable as well. Many nations chose to not sign the Rome Statute for this very same reason, most notably the United States, Russia and China.

While currently support for the mass exodus does not seem to be substantial, the very fact that the issue has warranted a continental meeting should raise some concerns within the ICC and the international community. If all 34 countries from Africa withdraw from ICC jurisdiction, that would amount to over 25 percent of all signatory countries, greatly weakening the support of the first permanent international criminal court. Couple this with the exorbitant cost to run the court – almost US$ 1 billion over the last 10 years – and other nations may reconsider if the output is worth the results. This brings up another negative aspect of the ICC. Despite the cost of investigations and a handful of trials, the ICC has only managed to successful prosecute one person, Congolese warlord Thomas Dyilo Lubanga, since its inception. High cost, poor results and dwindling support is not the recipe for success on the international stage.

Whether the vote by Africa leads to a mass exodus from ICC jurisdiction or not, the summit should be a major eye-opener for the court. They must start pursuing situations outside of Africa. They must decide whether indicting active leaders is worth the political feud it inevitably creates. They must change their tactics to produce better results and they must slowly regain the trust of the African continent or they could be shutting their doors permanently. While the idea of a court designed to punish criminals internationally may be sound, the execution of such an entity has been very poor thus far.

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