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I spent several years of my professional career working on human rights and justice first as the Founder and Chairperson of Juris-Club, then as Commissioner at the National Commission of Human Rights following my election by the Parliament of Togo, then as Outreach Liaison for Africa at the Global Coalition for the International Criminal Court in New York among others … The conflict between the African Union and the ICC therefore interests me in several respects but especially as African and a human rights lawyer; therefore I would like to share here some personal reflections on the different episodes of the serial “ICC versus the African Union”.
The International Criminal Court: The Basics
The creation of the International Criminal Court is an important step in mankind’s efforts to make our world more just. The court was established by an international law treaty “The Rome Treaty” adopted in 1998 and entered into force in 2002. The ICC covers only the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression, and this, only when States are unable or unwilling to judge these crimes themselves. The Court may be seized by a State Party, the Prosecutor and the United Nations Security Council. The Statute of the Court applies equally to all, without any distinction based on official capacity. In particular, official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official shall in no case exempt a person from criminal responsibility under the ICC Statute (…): Article 27.
The Place of Africa in the ICC
Africa is the geographical bloc the most represented in the ICC. 124 countries are currently Parties to the Statute of the International Criminal Court: Africa: 34, Asia and the Pacific: 19, Eastern Europe: 18, Latin America and the Caribbean: 28, Western Europe and others: 25. The judges of the Court are equally from all regions of the world. Out of the 18 judges of the court 4 are Africans: Kenya (vice-president), Nigeria, DRC, and Botswana. Moreover, the prosecutor of the Court is Gambian.
Is the ICC targeting Africa or African leaders only?
To date, the ICC has opened investigations in 9 countries, out of which 8 are in Africa: Uganda, DRC, Sudan, CAR, Kenya, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. This clearly demonstrates that the ICC operates primarily in Africa and it is true that today Africa is not the only continent where crimes of the ICC jurisdiction are committed… But did you know how and why this concentration of the ICC on Africa happened?
First, it was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who the first referred the situation in the Northern Uganda to the ICC in January 2004 against his opponent Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army; a brutal armed group. Then it was the Government of DRC under President Joseph Kabila who referred the situation in the country to the ICC. This was followed by the Governments of Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Mali, who themselves referred the situation of their countries to the ICC. In 2003, before even formally ratifying the ICC treaty, the government of Laurent Gbagbo had officially recognized the jurisdiction of the Court over its country, Cote d’Ivoire.
In short, the governments of 4 of the 8 African countries under investigation have themselves referred these cases to the ICC (Uganda, DRC, CAR, and Mali). The prosecutor of the ICC opened investigations on her own initiative in 2 countries with their full cooperation (Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire) and the UN Security Council had seized the court in two cases (Sudan and Libya).
It is therefore obvious from this observation that African leaders went to the ICC first (mostly against their opponents) and not the other way round … but why? …Why are they against the ICC today?
Do African leaders understand the ICC differently?
In 2004, President Museveni seized the ICC against his opponent Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army … But during the investigations there were indications that Uganda’s National Army may have also committed crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC, and therefore may be liable to be tried by the ICC with an eventual involvement of President Museveni himself…. ‘No way!!!’ said President Museveni … the ICC suddenly became his enemy….Frankly, once you call the ICC to investigate a situation in your country you can’t dictate them which crime to look at and which to close their eye on in the same situation…This is simply an instrumentalisation of the Court.
In 2003, even before formally ratifying the ICC treaty, Côte d’Ivoire government of Laurent Gbagbo had officially recognized the jurisdiction of the ICC … Laurent Gbabo was likely targeting his political enemies … but the power has changed camp so far… It was therefore President Allassane Ouatarra who delivered Gbagbo to the ICC on the basis of the same special recognition signed by Gbagbo himself.
In 2004, President Joseph Kabila used the ICC to get rid of some embarrassing alleged criminals, but he was also delighted to see his political challengers Jean Pierre Bemba carried away by the ICC in a case linked to the CAR.
In 2004, the Government of Francois Bozize lodged a case with the ICC against war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in the context of the violence in CAR between 2002 and 2003.
But why does not the ICC take care of the others?
Despite the above, this question is worth asking. I personally support on-going ICC investigations in Africa because innocent Africans have been massacred by Africans with the support and the blessing of other Africans regardless of whether they are Heads of State, Vice-President or otherwise. Their official functions do not confer on them the right to massacre citizens. Indeed, the status of the ICC does not recognize the official status of anybody … this is the innovative and progressive aspect of the court, in favour of the victims.
Why is the ICC delaying to take concrete actions in favour of Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, and Afghani … victims? (Even if some of those countries are currently under preliminary investigation)… The answers to this question are unfortunately not as “just” as one would like: Because these countries are not party to the ICC Statute, or because one or several powerful countries endowed with veto power in the UN Security Council would certainly oppose it for unfair reasons that we all know… In fact, only 2 of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council are parties to the ICC: France and the United Kingdom.
Many unanswered questions on the ICC: Why does the ICC always go for the defeated rather than the victors who are also guilty of crimes such as in Côte d’Ivoire and maybe in the CAR and the DRC? Why is it that only the United Nations Security Council has the power to refer cases to the Court and even to temporarily stop investigations of the Court while this Council is the most unequal and the least representative institution in our world? Why do they oppose the UN General Assembly exercising the same power?
These questions and many others obviously weaken the credibility of the ICC but … who is responsible for it and who must correct it?
A Collective Withdrawal from the ICC by African Countries?
The ICC has problems, it is true, but I do not think that these problems justify the entire war launched against the Court by the African Union. Atrocities are actually committed, Africans are massacred by other Africans and there is no functional mechanism to date in Africa to punish the perpetrators of these international crimes and to do justice to the victims. With regard to Africa, the ICC is therefore the only functional judicial mechanism on this day to try these crimes.
The so-called “mass withdrawal strategy” of the AU is rather a document that indicates the grievances and demands of the African Union on the ICC and its functioning in particular the fact that the court targets only African leaders, the issue of immunity of the Heads of State and the request of the African Union to suspend the cases against Sudanese and Kenyan leaders. This document adopted by the last AU Summit also includes a study of national procedures for an eventual individual withdrawal of member states from the Court. “Collective withdrawal” from a treaty is an incorrect language. It does not exist in international law. The African Union may just be using it as an instrument of political pressure to catalyse changes in the ICC.
Is not the ICC a common heritage that should help us to create a more just world? All nations, including African nations and their stakeholders, must work together to improve the ICC. Abandoning it or leaving it should not be an option … and I am pleased that a number of African countries have entered reservations on the “mass withdrawal strategy” during the AU Summit discussions. I have just learned that Gambia, which had previously announced its withdrawal from the ICC, has changed its mind. The government has just informed the United Nations that Gambia remains a state party to the ICC Treaty. Good news !
A mass withdrawal of African countries from the ICC would be a shame, a terrible contempt for African victims and an encouragement for criminals and their supporters… I know it will not happen. In fact 17 AU member states rejected the strategy… This is a terrible failure for the minority that initiated it.
The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights: An African Solution?
The slogan “African Solutions for African Problems” is beautiful but it will only convince me under two conditions: 1/the bill of the African solution must also be paid by Africa (I recall that Africa did not pay the bill of Hissen Habré trial) and 2/ universal human rights and justice standards must be applied because human rights and justice principles have no nationality or regional identity. They are simply and unequivocally universal.
Having said this, the body that ensures justice does not matter if justice is fair and equitable. But the reality is that the African Court of Human Rights today has only a “promise” of criminal jurisdiction. This means that the court has no jurisdiction over international crimes at this time and I do not see any political will from our countries to make it happen any time soon. Almost 20 years after the adoption of the Protocol that established the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (with no criminal jurisdiction) only 30 African States out of 54 ratified it. Moreover the amended protocol giving criminal jurisdiction to the Court has not been ratified by any African state, 2 years after its adoption in Malabo. The worst is that the Malabo Protocol ensured immunity for heads of state during their tenures. I consider this provision as an “authorization to kill” while on power and an “encouragement” to cling on power forever in order to be protected against prosecutions… The observation is clear: Withdrawing from the ICC before an African court is able to judge and punish serious and heinous crimes is simply guarantying impunity and abandoning the victims. This is against the spirit of the Constitutive Act of our African Union.
I also invite you to read my interviews on the ICC with Radio France Internationale and Le Monde Newspaper on the following links:
Your comments are welcome on the blog or by email: email@example.com