The Africa-France Summit, taking place Friday and Saturday in Bamako, Mali, offers an important moment for African countries and France to stand with victims of grave international crimes by voicing their support for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Withdrawals from the ICC, announced by South Africa, Gambia, and Burundi, pose unprecedented challenges for the court in Africa and could impede access to justice for victims of heinous crimes when their own country’s courts are not an option.
While the ICC is not on the official summit agenda, those attending can still find time to discuss how to best counter unwarranted attacks on the court in Africa.
A number of African countries, including Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have said that they will not join the withdrawals, some even announcing this at the ICC’s annual member meeting in November 2016. But more robust, coordinated backing of the court is needed, particularly ahead of the next African Union (AU) summit, which will take place in Ethiopia from January 22 to 31, 2017.
Benin lawyer Francis Dako said it well in Jeune Afrique this week:
The major gathering of senior African and French representatives in Africa – in Bamako on January 13 and 14 [is] a unique opportunity to reiterate their public support for the International Criminal Court…. It is equally crucial for this summit to encourage in-depth exchanges between the African Union and the ICC to find solutions to shared concerns.
Activists in Mali issued a press release with a similar call.
Like other courts, the ICC has its problems, but it is not targeting Africa over other regions as some critics claim. The majority of its investigations in Africa came about from a request by the affected African country. The cases it has pursued – including for crimes committed in Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic – help to bring justice for African victims.
Hundreds of activists across Africa, working with Human Rights Watch and other groups, have called for their governments to support and strengthen the ICC. African countries can do so through a more coordinated, public stance on the issue.
This article was first published by Human Rights Watch.