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What next for Africa and the ICC ?

Isaac Mugabi
February 2, 2016

Leaders at the African Union summit recently supported Kenya’s proposal for a pullout from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Rights groups and ordinary Kenyans are concerned that such an idea would breed impunity.


At this weekend's AU summit Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta took the lead in accusing the court for unfairly targeting Africans. Until his case was dropped by the court, he had been accused alongside his deputy William Ruto of masterminding post-election violence in the East African country in 2007-2008 in which some 1,200 people died.

In a strongly worded statement Kenyatta said, "We refuse to be carried along in a vehicle that has strayed off course to the detriment of our sovereignty, security and dignity as Africans".

However, no legally binding decision was made, and the decision to leave the ICC founding Rome Statute is up to each individual nation.

Support from African leaders

Kenyatta's mission to rally African leaders to quit the tribunal has already had the support of regional leaders, like Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Paul Kagame for quite sometime.

Two years ago, while addressing a mammoth crowd that had turned up to mark 51 years of independence in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Museveni criticized the court for continuing with Ruto's case despite an AU resolution that no sitting African head of state or deputy should be tried at the court.

"With connivance, they are putting Deputy President Ruto, someone who has been elected by Kenyans, in front of the court there in Europe," Museveni said.

"I supported the court at first because I like discipline. I don't want people to err without accountability but they have turned it into a vessel for oppressing Africa again- So I'm done with that court. I won't work with them again," he added.

Uganda has in the past sought the assistance of the ICC in bringing rebel warlord Joseph Kony to account for war crimes in northern Uganda.

For Rwanda's Paul Kagame the ICC represents 'selective' justice. "This world is divided into categories, there are people who have the power to use international justice or international law to judge others and it does not apply to them," Kagame told a press conference in late 2013."Everyone who needs justice should get it, it doesn't matter where. You can't have an international system that is supposed to dispense justice and it ends up doing it selectively or politically," he went on to say.

His foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo during a recent interview with DW TV's show Conflict Zone, said the international court is a court created for Africans, and, it is used mostly by Europe to manipulate African politics.

"Where is a white man convicted from the moment it started," she quipped. She went on to say that, " the lighter skinned you are, the less guilty you are."

"We don't believe in that court. That's why we never wanted to be part of the Rome statute. African countries are one by one going to get out of this court," Mushikiwabo said.

Youth carrying machetes
Ethnic violence broke out after the 2007 elections leaving over 1,200 people deadImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Mixed reactions from Kenya

Residents of Nairobi have different opinions about Kenya's wish to withdraw from the court. "We just need peace among our people," said a resident who lives in the outskirts of Nairobi.

"Kenya should not withdraw from the ICC. We joined the court to seek justice. Withdrawing from it would mean we don't need justice," said another resident.

A Kenyan human rights activist specializing in the ICC Ken Wafula told DW: "I don't think it is appropriate, wise and important for African countries to walk out of the Rome statute just because of one Kenyan case. The opinion of the Kenyan president is ill conceived and dangerous for Africa and therefore it should be rejected."

Patrick Ole Sampaya, a veteran Nairobi lawyer also told DW that the push by Uhuru Kenyatta in Ethiopia was driven by the fact that his deputy is currently in trouble with the ICC.

"I think it is a big shame after what we went through as a country in 2007 and 2008," he said. "They just want a way out to sort out their current mess but my belief is that whether they go east or west they will be brought back to book."

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy william Ruto
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were accused by the ICC of masterminding the post-election violenceImage: picture alliance/dpa

Implications in case of a withdrawal

According to Elise Keppler, associate director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, withdrawing from the ICC is not a collective but rather a sovereign decision. An AU decision on the matter would therefore not mean a definite pull-out for all countries. The ICC is far from perfect, she admitted: "We want to see the African states not only remain signatories of the Rome statute system but campaign for justice. The ICC is not perfect but its system needs to be extended, because there's no other option when justice is not possible before a national court or regional institutions."

Amnesty International has also, on various occassions voiced its concerns of crimes committed on the African continent and has urged African states to reject calls of withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

"A resolution calling on African states to withdraw en bloc from the Rome Statute would be reactionary in the extreme," said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International's Deputy Director of Law and Policy.

"Such a resolution would serve no purpose except to shield from justice, and to give succor to, people suspected of committing some of the worst crimes known to humanity," Amnesty empasized.

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