Member states of the International Criminal Court are beginning their annual meeting in The Hague. Three African states are leaving the court, but it is still needed writes Tanzanian analyst Anaclet Rwegayura.
Under the flag of the United Nations all member states believe in equality and justice. But inequality of nations persists. And, yet every nation is expected to play its fair role in this game of inequality!
I am raising these points in the wake of dissatisfaction expressed by some African countries with regard to the performance of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They charge that there has been no fair play with regard to Africa.
Last month Burundi, South Africa and Gambia, began the formal process to withdraw from the founding treaty of the ICC, the Rome Statute. Was their decision based on domestic politics or on international legal grounds?
In the view of other signatories to the statute, this is a disturbing signal which could open the way to withdrawal by other African states from an institution that has existed for just 14 years.
Ratification and accession to the Rome Statute by many nations around the world showed they understood the need for global justice, within and outside their own boundaries. That affirmed their trust in this organization.
Can the same nations today afford to slacken the pace and the work of the ICC which is to ensure justice for lasting peace? Of course not. All people need guarantee for survival and development in peace.
The ICC carries out its mandate on the principle that international justice can contribute to long-term peace, stability and equitable development in post-conflict societies.
'Putting its finger on miscreants'
African people don't need a heavenly voice to tell them what is necessary for building a future free of violence. Unfortunately, prejudiced groups of people who commit harmful actions against others still exist around the continent.
Africa needs peace in order to keep pace with the changing world, but without the ICC putting its finger on miscreants who wish that atrocities witnessed in recent years in a number of countries happen again, that cannot be a good recipe for peace.
Situations presently under investigation by the court in Africa include Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Darfur in Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Ivory Coast and Mali. This list does not mean situations in other African countries are like paradise. Not at all.
The decision taken by the three African countries to sever relations with the ICC may not draw much attention at the United Nations because the court is not part of the world body, but it should at the January 2017 summit of the African Union (AU) leaders.
AU member countries need to work together and, more so, with the international community in the fight against impunity, which often causes massive violations of human rights in Africa and other parts of the world.
While it still enjoys support from many African countries, the ICC should undertake a thorough examination of its administration of justice to ensure it does not undermine its own legitimacy and credibility, more importantly it must succeed in enforcing accountability at the highest levels in governments and society in general.
Africa's fears and concerns should not be ignored, especially the argument that the court is biased against Africans. They must be addressed and explained so that the ICC can bring a greater influence to the course of justice in the continent.
From its short experience, the ICC should have drawn a lesson that it requires a practical and well-timed strategy to prosecute a sitting head of state, because that's where its strained relations with Africa originated.
The most notable argument is that, while in power, heads of state have immunity from prosecution at the ICC.