There had been much speculation in advance that strained relations between some African leaders and the International Criminal Court (ICC) would be in the forefront of this year’s African Union (AU) summit. Some people had even feared African countries might together pull out of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Treaty of Rome. But the 27th AU summit that ended on Monday July 18 in the Rwandan capital Kigali made no mention of the ICC in its final conclusions.
Were the Heads of State too preoccupied by the renewed conflict in South Sudan, or by the financial survival of their organization? Or did they fail to agree a common position on the ICC, since some oppose it strongly and others recognize the Court’s legitimacy even if it is not perfect?
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo announced on the eve of the summit that the African leaders would discuss the issue, but current AU president Idriss Déby of Chad did not even mention it, either in his opening or closing speeches. So the world did not see the usual threats and accusations against the ICC that some African leaders have become accustomed to making in their speeches.
The picture of the ICC painted on July 16 by Joseph Chilengi, Presiding Officer of the AU’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council, was nevertheless harsh and suggested that there might be a radical decision. “The fact is that the ICC and its behaviour are damaging and raping the international justice system,” the Zambian diplomat told a press conference in Kigali. “They claim to be an international court, but from our perspective it is not such. It is a court that represents only one third of the world’s population while the USA, Russia, China and countries like the world’s largest democracy, India, are not members.”
“Europeans would like to impose their solutions such as the ICC on Africa,” Chilengi said. “It is clear that the ICC is part of the problem of the international justice system. It is a problem rather than a solution.”
Against an ICC pullout
He said that the Court itself was responsible for losing the confidence of Africans to the point that some are calling for withdrawal. “Human rights and justice are an absolute requirement for Africa and Africans just like in the rest of the world,” Chilengi continued. “The ICC is not for Africa, not only is its focus on Africa clouded by racism which is unacceptable, it has persistent allegations of corruption. The international justice system must be perfected.”
“This is why no EU, US or NATO soldier or politician will ever appear before the court. This is why allegations of war crimes, genocide in Iraq, Afghanistan continue to go unpunished,” he added.
Whereas African leaders seem to agree with such criticisms, they do not all advocate the same solution. Botswana, for example, had already marginalized itself among the 34 African ICC member countries by publicly supporting the Court. A few other African governments had also continued to support the Court without having the courage to say so openly. According to observers, things therefore evolved at the Kigali summit when countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia joined Botswana in opposing any planned call for mass withdrawal from the ICC. International human rights organizations hope this courageous position will encourage other African ICC member countries to overcome their reservations because, say these NGOs, the ICC despite its imperfections is the only recourse at the moment, especially for victims of grave crimes committed by top officials.