The Gambia has become the latest African country to announce its intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing the court of “persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”. The Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang made the announcement on state television and accused the ICC of prosecutorial bias, skewed against Africans while ignoring war crimes perpetrated by Western powers.
The news comes as no surprise to many observers, international law experts and journalists, who have predicted an exodus of African countries from the ICC, triggered by the recent announcement by South Africa of its notice to withdraw from the court.
Similarly, Burundi kick-started a process to quit the institution, with the country’s lower house of parliament voting in support of a proposed withdrawal, although Bujumbura is yet to formally submit a request of its withdrawal to the UN secretary-general, which is needed to begin the withdrawal process. South Africa however has already submitted its notice of withdrawal to the UN but the matter is being challenged by the opposition because the decision has not been debated in parliament.
While African leaders have in the past criticised the ICC for its perceived skewed and racist prosecutorial strategy targeting Africans, the matter is not an open shut case. There are many African countries and civic groups which continue to fervently support the institution. In the absence of functional alternatives to prosecute grave crimes and human rights abuses, there are many African countries and citizens who believe the ICC is still relevant and has a significant role to play in Africa against the backdrop of impunity and weak domestic judicial mechanisms.
Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general recently criticised accusations against the ICC and scoffed at allegations that the court targets African leaders. Annan said African leaders “shouldn’t pretend that they were the first” or that the process is biased and recommended that if Africans and others cannot get justice in their domestic courts they should seek it abroad.
Amidst the tumult ignited by the recently revealed notices to quit the court, Botswana has come out in support of the international court and proposed that countries such as South Africa, should push to reform the institution rather than quitting.
The country issued a statement on its position. “Botswana remains convinced that the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute is the most appropriate platform for States Parties to address any concerns they may have regarding the implementation of the Statute,” the statement reads.
“It had been our sincere hope and expectation that the Government of South Africa would use the opportunity presented by the upcoming meeting of the ASP on 16-24 November 2016 at The Hague to ventilate its concerns in this regard,” the statement notes.
Many Africans are divided on the issue of quitting the ICC. While many Africans see it as the right move (citing the often cited prosecutorial bias against Africans) others see the withdrawal from the ICC as a huge blow for justice and a slap in the face for victims of atrocities and human rights abuses.