Arusha, July 17 2013, (FH) – Fifteen years after the signing of its founding treaty, one of the main challenges facing the International Criminal Court is to secure the cooperation of member states in Africa, where it is being accused more and more of targeting African leaders. In a speech marking International Criminal Justice Day today, ICC President Sang-Hyun Song said the Court was now a “vibrant, independent international organization” but also that it faces threats and that “there are those who refuse to cooperate, leaving more than ten ICC suspects still at large”.

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Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir’s visit to Nigeria this week was a new example of the ICC’s difficulties in getting member states to implement the Court’s arrest warrants. Bashir is under an ICC arrest warrant for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur, while Nigeria is an ICC member state. Nevertheless, the Sudanese President was able to travel to Abuja and leave without any problem, despite an ICC request to the Nigerian authorities to arrest him immediately and transfer him to The Hague. Nigeria said it allowed Bashir’s visit in accordance with an African Union decision not to cooperate with the ICC. Bashir has also travelled to a number of other African countries.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has made repeated appeals for the arrest of Bashir, including an appeal on June 5 before the UN Security Council.  Since taking office last year, the Gambian Prosecutor has highlighted member states’ failure to implement arrest warrants and difficulties in carrying our investigations as the main difficulties facing her office.

ICC accused of “racial hunt”On May 15, as the African Union celebrated 50 years since the founding of its predecessor organization, some 60 African and international organizations called on the AU to support the ICC. They stressed that 34 out 54 African countries have ratified the Treaty of Rome which established the Court. However, this seems to have further inflamed the sentiments of African leaders gathered in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, some of whom were already ignoring ICC arrest warrants. Speaking at the summit closure, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn accused the ICC of conducting “some kind of racial hunt" against Africans. The heads of state adopted a resolution calling for the ICC to drop cases against three Kenyans including President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The AU resolution cannot force any action from the ICC. Only the UN Security Council can request a suspension – although not a withdrawal -- of ICC procedures. “In any case, Bensouda’s task will be a tough one,” one Kenyan lawyer who did not wish to be named commented to Hirondelle. “It won’t be easy to convince Kenyan witnesses to come and testify against their democratically elected President and Vice-President.”

In March Bensouda had to drop charges against another prominent Kenyan, former Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura, saying a key witness had recanted evidence while others were “too afraid to testify for the prosecution”.

Abidjan urged to transfer Simone Gbagbo Last week it was Côte d’Ivoire which defied the ICC by referring Simone Gbagbo before a national court rather than sending her to The Hague. The former first lady is detained in Côte d’Ivoire but is also under an ICC arrest warrant for crimes against humanity. Like her husband, former president Laurent Gbagbo who is held in The Hague, she is accused in connection with crimes committed in post-election violence between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.

The following day, ICC Prosecutor Bensouda renewed calls for Abidjan to transfer Mrs. Gbagbo to the ICC without delay, in accordance with its obligations. ER/JC