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Africa

ICC 'open to discuss concerns' of African countries leaving the court

How is the International Criminal Court reacting after three African countries recently pulled out of the court? DW spoke to ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah.

Gambia has become the third country after Burundi and South Africa to announce that it will be pulling out of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The move by the tiny West African country is all the more striking because court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is Gambian. DW spoke to Fadi El Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC.

DW: Why hasn't the chief prosecutor - by dint of her own personal commitment to international justice - been able to convince her fellow  Gambians that membership of the ICC is worthwhile?

Fadi El Abdallah: I think this is a question that should be asked of the authorities. Until now there has been no official notification of the withdrawal of either Gambia or Burundi. But the calculations or the reasons that would lead these governments to withdraw is something to be asked of them and then to be checked against the actual facts of the different issues. It is not for the ICC to say why these countries want to withdraw. It is up to them to explain. 

How concerned is the court itself that countries are announcing their intentions to leave?

The President of the Assembly of State Parties of the ICC Sidiki Kaba does explain that he is concerned about that and called on the states to discuss their concerns and preoccupations within the right forum which is the Assembly of the State Parties.

The ICC, as you perfectly understand, is a judicial institution. It is a court that applies the law. But the law in this case is the Rome Statute and other legal texts governing the work of the ICC. These are adopted by the state parties and not by the court itself. The court only applies what the states have given to it as a mandate and as governing rules.

Porträt - Fadi El Abdallah (privat)

Fadi El Abdallah is the spokesperson for the ICC

Recently the President of the Assembly of State Parties held a press conference in Senegal and he urged Burundi and South Africa to reconsider their decisions. Are you optimistic that the countries will heed his advice?

It is a question to be addressed to these countries. I think that an important moment will be whether and to which extent they are going to participate in the Assembly of State Parties session that is scheduled for mid November. We all hope that indeed there will be a serious and fruitful discussion that would dissipate and misunderstandings or misconceptions of the court and would allow the international community, with all these countries, to continue supporting the global fight against impunity through the ICC. 

What does the court intend to do to restore African confidence in its jurisdiction?

I think the main thing is for the court to continue providing justice and to continue with fair proceedings respecting the rights of the victims and the rights of the defendants. This is the main thing that the court can and has to do. Of course we are open to discuss any further concerns that are related to explaining better some of the decisions of the court and why they have been taken and adopted and so on.

Gambia has become the third country in a matter of weeks to announce its departure. How loudly are the alarm bells ringing in The Hague?  Is this being viewed by the court as a full-blown crisis?

The ICC is the creation of the Rome Statute. It is not the ICC that created this treaty, it is the other way around. This is something that is important to keep in mind. What is important is to preserve the independence on the judicial level for the ICC to fulfill the mandate that has been given to it by those states. This includes the mandate of fighting impunity, accepting that no one is above the law because of their official capacity and to bring justice to the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. By doing so, we can hopefully prevent the repetition of the same atrocities in the future. 

Fadi El Abdallah is the spokesman for the ICC.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi.

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