Gambia recently announced its exit from the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the third African country to exit ICC after South Africa and Burundi. Kenya is considering its exit as well.
Never mind that Gambian leader himself, having come to power via a coup, has a sketchy human rights record and rule of law goes within his country. What is worth examining is whether ICC is working for or against Africa.
Focus on Africans
According to its Wikipedia page, to date, the ICC has opened investigations into ten situations: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Uganda; the Central African Republic (two cases); Darfur, Sudan; Kenya; Libya; Côte d’Ivoire; Mali; and Georgia. It has publicly indicted 39 people. It has also issued arrest warrants for 31 individuals and summoned eight others. Seven persons are in detention. Proceedings against 22 are ongoing: nine are at large as fugitives, four are under arrest but not in the Court’s custody, one is in the pre-trial phase, seven are on trial, and one is appealing his conviction. Proceedings against 17 have been completed: three have been convicted, one has been acquitted, six have had the charges against them dismissed, two have had the charges against them withdrawn, one has had his case declared inadmissible, and four have died before trial.
They went after Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto. Charles Taylor, the former Liberian warlord who later became president, is currently serving time for his role in the war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
More and more, it is becoming abundantly clear the ICC has become the police of rogue leaders of African countries. You can sprinkle in a few Eastern European countries but the salient target is hard to deny. Apart from Slobodan Milošević, the former Serbian president who died during his trail, there are hardly any non-Africans to point to.
The overemphasis on Africa is eroding the ICC’s support in Africa. Many see it as the West’s interference and parenting of Africa without meting an equal level of “oversight” on skirmishes in other parts of the world. And they may have a point. We have Myanmar and other countries in Asia, Latin America, Middle East and so on that have questionable human rights record. Yet, they seem to select overwhelmly issues in Africa and turn a blind eye to other parts of the world. This iniquity is what is sapping African support for the institution.
Is Africa better off without the ICC?
If the question is whether Africa can survive without ICC then the answer is an emphatic YES! They survived life before the ICC. But that was a period without anyone to check the powers of autocratic leaders and war criminals. With the presence of the ICC, the message became clear: There are consequences for war crimes. But this has not served as a deterrent. Would the growing list of exits render Africa fertile ground for anarchy and war crimes? Or should the ICC strive for equity to build the ethos it needs to become an objective arbitrator of justice?
There are no simple answers to these questions. But what is clear is that, without anyone, or anything, to deter autocratic governance, Africa risks returning to its dark days of civil wars.