Group Urges UN/AU to Reject Call for Africa Countries Withdrawal from ICC

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•As concern mounts over ‘unfair’ focus on Africa
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja

A group of African Non-Ggovernmental Organisations and international groups with a presence in the continent has called the African Union (AU) and United Nations Security Council to end consideration of a call for mass withdrawal of its members from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The petition was signed on Thursday and made available yesterday by the Chairman Steering Committee, Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court (NCICC), Mr. Chinonye Obiagwu.

Obiagwu recalled that in January, the AU decided to mandate its Open-Ended Committee on the ICC to develop a “comprehensive strategy” that includes withdrawal from the ICC.

He noted that the committee met on April 11, and identified three conditions that it said should be met for the AU to avoid calling for withdrawal, including a demand for immunity for sitting heads of state and other senior officials from prosecution before the ICC.

He said: “AU efforts to undermine the only permanent criminal court for victims of atrocities are fundamentally at odds with the AU’s rejection of impunity, and with its decision to make 2016 as the AU’s year of human rights,” said Stella Ndirangu of the Kenya section of International Commission of Jurists.

“The AU’s commitment to justice cannot be reconciled with protecting African and other leaders from accountability for mass atrocities before the ICC.”

“Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the AU expressly rejects and condemns impunity. The AU has also identified justice as one of its “shared values,” and 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women.”

Obiagwu said that some African ICC members are taking important steps to limit impunity, adding that at the AU’s summit in Kigali from July 10 to 18, several African countries – Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia – pushed back against a potential call by the AU for a mass exit of African countries from the International Criminal Court.

He said that Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Senegal also entered reservations to the AU decision that was adopted at the summit to continue its consideration of ICC withdrawal.

He said that in the period before the summit, 21 international and African NGOs released a video featuring 12 African activists on the importance of the ICC and the need for African governments to support the court.

Obiagwu stated that the video, and a shortened version of it, have attracted more than 80,000 views on social media.

He insisted that withdrawal from the ICC is a decision to be made by individual countries and cannot be carried out by the AU.

At the same time, he said, a call from the AU for countries to withdraw or consider withdrawal would make it more difficult politically for African countries to show support for the court.

He said that the decision is the first ICC finding of non-cooperation related to the failure of an ICC member country to provide assistance to the prosecution’s investigations.

“The ICC remains the crucial court of last resort. The AU should work to strengthen and support the ICC, not urge its members to quit the institution,” said Timothy Mtambo of Malawi’s Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation

Stating further, Obiagwu said that the work of the Open-Ended Committee on the ICC is the latest development in a backlash against the ICC by some African leaders, focused on charges that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africa.

He noted that he backlash first surged in the wake of the 2009 ICC arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, on charges of serious crimes committed in Darfur. It reached a new level of intensity in 2013, when then ICC suspects Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were elected president and deputy president of Kenya, respectively.

According to him, Kenya has played a leading role in mobilising AU attacks on the ICC since 2013 with ICC on September 19, issuing a finding of non-cooperation by Kenya in the now-withdrawn case against Kenyatta to the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties. The charges in the case against William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, were vacated for lack of evidence in April.

He said that six out of the nine African situations under ICC investigation came about as a result of requests or grants of jurisdictions by African governments – Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Uganda, and two requests from the Central African Republic.

“In January, the ICC prosecutor opened the court’s first investigation outside Africa, in Georgia, and it is conducting several preliminary examinations of situations outside Africa. They include Afghanistan, Colombia, Palestine, and alleged crimes attributed to the armed forces of the United Kingdom deployed in Iraq,” he stated.

At the same time, Obiawgu stressed that some powerful countries – including China, Russia, and the United States, all permanent UN Security Council members – and their allies have been able to avoid the reach of international justice.

He noted that “they have been able to do that by not joining the ICC and because they have a veto on the UN Security Council, which can refer situations to the court”, asking the AU to raise these concerns with the UN.