Although far from perfect, the International Criminal Court (ICC) should rank very high on a list of great human achievements, along with the United Nations and the European Union. Horror at the senseless deaths of millions of innocent civilians sits at the root of these institutions.
Though these institutions are all deeply flawed and have had many failings, one shudders to imagine a world without them. It would be a world with less cooperation, one with no voice for the greater interests of humanity, a world without a mechanism to mitigate belligerent national interests, a world of defenceless people unable to hold to account leaders who instigate crimes against humanity.
And yet, at a time when we are facing our greatest challenges ever, when civilisation as we currently understand it, perhaps even the survival of the human species, is in jeopardy, it appears we have decided, like Nero, to fiddle while Rome burns.
Democratic systems are turning into “bread and circuses” — a jingoistic vote for Brexit and a ludicrous reality TV show called the US election that culminated in the hideous excrescence of a Trump presidency — a US oligarch version of Caligula.
The Trump ascendancy has encouraged demagogues across the world, from Marine Le Pen in France to Julius Malema in South Africa. They have seen that in what is becoming known as the post-factual world, the most outrageous statements can be made without any personal consequence, accountability or rational debate.
President-elect Trump has said he will start mass deportations of people based on their religion and national origin, begin a trade war with China, and rubbish the Paris Agreement on climate change. For his own people, he intends to end their affordable health care, then put them behind a 3,000 kilometre wall and bring back torture so that they can feel safe.
Meanwhile, the European Union faces disintegration. Its members are ripping up what was a culture of freedom, tolerance, openness and human rights. The so-called refugee “problem” is being blamed, but it is altogether self-inflicted. It is only a crisis because it was manufactured to become one by bad politics.
States crucial to the stability of whole regions are in serious trouble. The Philippines has elected an unstable man. Turkey has fallen under the absolute rule of Erdogan. Under Da’esh, sadists have taken control of whole populations. Libya, Yemen and Syria are caught in seemingly intractable civil wars. Afghanistan is unresolved. In Palestine, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, the South China Sea, North Korea and the Ukraine tensions continue to simmer. Africa has a dozen precarious and destabilised countries, including South Sudan, Mali, Somalia, Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, and Nigeria.
Add to this a floundering world economy and international financial markets that increasingly look like the machinery of the Wizard of Oz.
And instability and unknown perils don’t stop there. Technology, both civilian and military, is advancing at a pace that is changing the world faster than we can respond. Laws and ethics — in fact, if we are honest — our intellects are falling behind.
Assassination drones and cyber war machines have placed themselves beyond the rules of engagement and threaten to become autonomous — prosecutor, judge and executioner. Apps on mobile phones are disrupting economies. Social media is transforming society and our political systems in unpredictable ways. Cybernetics is altering our very notion of consciousness and rewiring our physical brains and our memories. Genetic engineering and bionics are changing our very definition of what it is to be human.
We haven’t even begun to understand the implications of being able to create synthetic life, clone human foetuses and make them glow in the dark, manufacture organs or grow steaks like grass. We can be sure that if it can be done it will be done. Might I add, the world still has 15,000 nuclear warheads.
In this brave new world, international cooperation and the solidarity of mankind needs to be affirmed more strongly than ever. But the political outcome has been to elect Donald Trump and vote for Brexit.
I see the withdrawal from the ICC, lead by South Africa, as an act of international vandalism, jeopardising the very existence of this remarkable institution.
And it is in this context that I see the withdrawal from the ICC, lead by South Africa, as an act of international vandalism, jeopardising the very existence of this remarkable institution. The ICC took decades of intense and sustained work and persuasion before it was established.
In January, the African Union took the decision to formulate a strategy for collective withdrawal from the ICC. The AU had always been against the court indicting sitting heads of state and senior government officials. It would prefer to indict people after they have finished committing their crimes against humanity, when they are no longer in a position to do any harm.
The pathetic argument that the ICC is biased against Africa fails to recognise that the prosecutions have been brought by Africans themselves, not imposed imperialistically; that the ICC is a court that every African can go to for justice. A Zimbabwean tortured in Zimbabwe can lay criminal charges in South Africa.
“The court is anti-African” — is vacuous populist rhetoric that abuses the very real pain of victimhood.
Even ignoring the fact that the Court is busy investigating the UK and Iraq, Palestine, the refugee crisis, the Ukraine and others, and even if we accept that the Court has focused largely on African leaders, it is still completely illogical to use this as an argument for withdrawal. It is once again Africa’s political elite seeing the world through the lens of their privileged club, and then manipulating opinion. “The court is anti-African” — is vacuous populist rhetoric that abuses the very real pain of victimhood.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. How does it make sense to say Omar al-Bashir must not face charges for committing racial genocide against black Africans because Tony Blair hasn’t been indicted?
Would it not be a much greater thing, if instead, Africa said, we are the only continent with international justice? We will show the world the way. Africa is the bastion of true human generosity and we always were. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu / a person is a person because of people. We are the only continent where our leaders are held to account, where our people are protected by international law, where crimes against humanity will not go unpunished.
Botswana has made it clear it won’t leave the ICC. Hopefully other Africa nations will not follow South Africa down the cul de sac its government has chosen. Sinking the ICC will only set Africa back.