In January 2017, African leaders adopted a resolution to collectively withdraw from the ICC.
In October 2016, Burundi showed its seriousness to leave the International Criminal Court by presenting its letter of intent to withdraw to the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon. Alan Nyamitwe, Burundian Foreign Minister said, “I believe that there are some other politically motivated reasons which have pushed the ICC to act on African cases. How many times have you heard about the ICC investigating crimes committed in Iraq? How many times have you heard the ICC investigating crimes committed in Afghanistan? Or let me go further, which group has been under investigation for crimes committed in Libya?”
These were good questions which no one answered but instead, the reaction was to claim Burundi was hiding its skeletons in dark closets and throwing away the keys. Elise Keppler, the associate director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch called it “a blow to victims of atrocity crimes and also said, “There has been a spiraling of abuses in Burundi’s political situation and the issue of term limit and its president. In fact, there was a commission of inquiry there and investigators, as I understand it, who were expelled from the country after documenting abuses. So, I think we can see Burundi clearly has a kind of callous interest in trying to remove itself from the International Criminal Court."
The very important worries about ICC independence were thus reduced to a game of “Catch me if you can”. The ideological point to be imported from the withdrawal was watered down to nothing but self-preservation by Burundian officials. The ICC has however said, “Burundi's withdrawal does not affect the jurisdiction of the court with respect to crimes alleged to have been committed during the time it was a state party, namely up until 27 October 2017."
Now, a year after the letter of intention, the inevitable has happened. Burundi has now officially withdrawn from the ICC. It becomes the first country to do so after South Africa revoked its intention to withdraw in March and Gambia did the same in February. No other country has formally taken steps to leave the ICC. However, in January 2017, African leaders adopted a resolution to collectively withdraw from the ICC but this is not binding.
Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, one of the most vocal opponents to African membership in the ICC in 2013 gave an eye opening speech at the African Union assembly where he said, “Western powers are the key drivers of the ICC process. They have used prosecutions as ruses and bait to pressure Kenyan leadership into adopting, or renouncing various positions. Close to 70% of the Court's annual budget is funded by the European Union. The threat of prosecution usually suffices to have pliant countries execute policies favourable to these countries. Through it, regime-change sleights of hand have been attempted in Africa. A number of them have succeeded.”
He then categorically declared, “African sovereignty means nothing to the ICC and its patrons.”
Kenyatta also had been indicted when he gave these speeches thus again reducing withdrawal from a Pan –African statement to just self-preservation. While the conduct of leaders in various African countries taking a stand against the ICC is questionable, the points they raise cannot be easily dispensed of. The ICC is unfair and it is doing international justice no favours by playing along to the caprice of the West. Africa is not objecting to justice but it is objecting to complexion informed ideas of justice. Black men cannot be made to cheer on as their gallows are erected. Burundi has left, more countries could follow if the global community does not recalibrate its ideas of justice. In the meantime, the victims of atrocities continue to suffer as the elephants tussle and haggle over politics,
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