Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni has called on African Nations to drop out of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Speaking during Kenya's 51st Jamhuri Day celebrations at the Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi he said he will mobilize African leaders to quit the International Criminal Court; “I will bring a motion to the African Union to have all African states withdraw from the court and then they can be left alone with their own court,” Museveni went on to declare, the ICC is a tool of the West which unfairly targets and disrespects African leaders.
In his crusade to see African Countries quit the ICC, Museveni said ignoring the views of African leaders on African issues was “biased and shallow” citing the case of Libya, when an African Union Committee advised the Europeans not to intervene in the crisis, of which was disregarded. Adding his voice to Museveni’s, Ugandan State Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of International Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem, affirmed, the ICC’s failure to treat elected African leaders with respect has become an “irritant”, which has engineered a “very strong momentum toward total withdrawal” from the court. Okello regretted the selective justice and arrogance of members of the court saying, it gravely undermined the African voice.
“The ICC definitely has a credibility problem in Africa, and, at first glance, the criticism that the court has focused too much on African states is a fair one,” says Jeffrey Smith, an Africa specialist at the nonprofit Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “The most horrific mass atrocities in recent years according to Leslie Vinjamuri, Director of the Center for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, have taken place outside of Africa, and the ICC simply is not there.” However she mentioned that while it is true that all eight of the countries with open ICC investigations are located on the African continent, half of them asked for the court's involvement. Despite the expert's opinions, the African Union slammed the ICC for unfairly targeting Africans, calling the international court “racist,” and in 2013 requested for the Kenyan cases to be deferred, as a sign of their disgruntlement.
The focus on Africa may be due to practical considerations, but it has clearly created a negative impression of the court in Africa. The ICC would need a UN Security Council intervention to investigate war crimes in Syria, Vinjamuri points out. The question at this junction is; does that apply to African countries? Vinjamuri says, “When you find yourself in a situation where you are justifying bad outcomes on the basis that they follow the rules, then it is probably time to change the rules.”
Some pundits think the move by some African leaders to quit the ICC is to secure freedom of crimes against humanity, as the ICC is hardly an institution that looks anti-African. 34 of its 122 states are African, and they were central in negotiating the Rome treaty that established the court. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is an African who assumed the post in 2012. Moreover, the ICC’s focus on Africa is largely not of its own doing. In five of the eight countries where it is actively prosecuting suspects; Uganda, Mali, Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the African states in question asked the court to intervene, often with significant encouragement from victims and local rights groups. These however have not moved crusader Museveni who insists the court is a tool of the west.
In its initial years, perhaps in an effort to establish itself and build political support, the ICC’s focus was on widely shunned groups who lacked a powerful constituency and protection. However, it has come under serious scrutiny following the withdrawal of crimes against humanity against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. Experts say the collapse of the case has been ICC's biggest setback. As African countries contemplate withdrawal, debates at the African Union have revealed divisions with countries like Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda taking a tough line, while others seemingly are reluctant to get embroiled in a diplomatic confrontation. The withdrawal of African countries that make up 34 out of 122 from the court would seriously damage the institution and its credibility but in the clouds of Museveni, it is worth it.
Barrister Nso Dickson in a high tone laments, international politics is complicated and masked adding that some western countries are funders to wars and genocides in Africa and turn around to victimize African leaders when they seek the truth. Although a straight line cannot be drawn between the rights and obligations of the ICC, it is imperative for African countries to seek a way forward.
The ICC was founded in 2002, under a treaty negotiated at a global conference in Rome, as an independent judicial body that would challenge impunity for the gravest international crimes: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity which have not only been a thing of Africa.