Does the ICC Have an Agenda Against African Nations?


Earlier this year the African Union (AU) voted in favour of a proposal to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The campaign, which has been spearheaded by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, defines a sentiment popular among many African leaders: that the ICC has an agenda against African nations.

Critics of the ICC say there are human rights violations and war crimes being committed all over the world, yet all of the court’s cases have been against Africans. So is there truth to claims of bias against African nations or is this simply a reflection of the political landscape across the continent?


Who says the ICC has an agenda against African nations?

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta has become the latest face of the AU’s campaign to withdraw from the ICC, but he’s one of many African leaders to accuse the organisation. Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe are among the other AU figures calling for an ICC withdrawal.

Kenyatta himself is a former ICC suspect, while his deputy William Ruto is still battling the courts. But the highest-profile case has been against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who is wanted on five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

The Sudanese leader has accused the ICC of being “a tool to terrorise countries that the West thinks are disobedient,” and insists the charges against him are exaggerated. This particular case even turned one of the ICC’s only AU allies – South African President Jacob Zuma – against the organisation.

Last year Bashir was allowed to attend an AU summit in South Africa and fly out of the country in his private jet – despite an ICC warrant out for his arrest. As one of the nations which signed the Rome Statute, and under the ICC’s jurisdiction, South Africa was legally obliged to arrest Bashir. Zuma is now a part of the campaign for AU nations to withdraw from the ICC and the notion it’s biassed against African leaders.


Is there any truth to these accusations against the ICC?

Claims of the ICC’s bias stem from the fact that, until recently, all eight cases pursued by the ICC had been against African nations: Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Congo, Libya, the Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central African Republic.

And, to date, all 32 individuals to have been indicted by the court have been African. Which has fuelled speculation that the ICC only targets African nations while taking no action against atrocities happening elsewhere in the world.

Supporters of the ICC take a different stance on the issue, however. First of all, they point out the fact that the court is analysing situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Honduras, Iraq, Palestine and Ukraine. While, earlier this month, the ICC opened an official investigation into the 2008 war in Georgia.

Perhaps the most important point, however, is only two the ICC’s investigations into African nations were initiated by the organisation itself. The Sudan and Libya cases were both referred to it by the United Nations. Meanwhile, another four were self-referred by the countries themselves, who requested intervention from the ICC: Uganda, Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic.

Which means the only cases against African nations to be opened by the ICC itself are those against Kenya and the Ivory Coast.


The ICC’s tarnished reputation

Whether accusations against the ICC are justified or not, it’s clear the organisation suffers a tarnished reputation – and not only within Africa. Since it was first established in 2002, the ICC has only successfully convicted two war criminals, spending more than $1 billion in that 14-year period.

Those figures are hardly enough to leave war criminals shaking in their boots or taking the ICC seriously. In fact, the court’s legitimacy has been questioned since day one, after the US refused to have anything to do with it, fearing its soldiers would get caught up in prosecutions. That’s an interesting double standard on international policy right there; one that probably won’t calm the notion that Western powers are attempting to dictate global law.

So how does the ICC go about repairing its tarnished reputation? If its efforts to bring justice against Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Sudan’s Bashir were meant to show the ICC means business, they were spectacular failures, that’s for sure. And proving to the world it doesn’t have an agenda against African nations might be difficult at this stage, whether it’s true or not.

The ICC’s jurisdiction doesn’t give it any authority in much of the Middle East and Asia, while Russia joins the US as a non-ratified signatory. Which means the atrocities that come under the court’s jurisdiction are fairly limited until a nation requests intervention or the a case is referred by the UN. So, perhaps it’s not so much a question of ICC bias against African nations, but rather the organisation’s ability to serve as the global justice council it claims to be.


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