Week in Review: Africa and the International Criminal Court, Tunisia and  Myanmar

Week in Review: Africa and the International Criminal Court, Tunisia and  Myanmar©AU
Symbol of the African Union
2 min 17Approximate reading time

Once again this week, Africa and its relations with the International Criminal Court were in the spotlight. 

During the African Union summit this week, AU leaders recommended a mass withdrawal of African States from the International Criminal Court. But this declaration, coming after announcements by South Africa, The Gambia and Burundi that they are withdrawing from the Court, hides deep divisions within the AU, explains a Human Rights Watch analyst. Important countries like Senegal and Nigeria reiterated their support for the ICC, along with Cape Verde, Zambia, Tunisia and Malawi. New Gambian President Adama Barrow has also said he wants to reverse the decision by his predecessor Yahya Jammeh to pull out of the ICC. “This support—and opposition to withdrawal plans—should be strengthened,” writes Human Rights Watch. “The ICC is the only court of last resort to deliver justice for victims of mass atrocities when national courts are unable or unwilling.”

Another specificity of the ICC is that its mandate includes not only the “retributive” justice of trying and sentencing people, but also reparations for victims. Our partner Oxford Transitional Justice Research (OTJR) looks at the case of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Writer Kirsten J. Fisher explains that the ICC’s first judgment in 2012 was against Thomas Lubanga who was convicted of using child soldiers, some as young as 11. But five years later, reparations to help reintegrate these children, now adults, have still not been put in place. “At a time when there are pronounced challenges regarding the legitimacy of ICC intervention in Africa (some African countries have expressed concerns while others have pursued acts to formally withdraw from the ICC), it is unfortunate that the first crime the reparations mandate must address is one so riddled with complexity and possible negative effects, in stark contrast to its potential,” writes Fisher.

Torture in Tunisia

In Tunisia, seen as a kind of testing ground for transitional justice, a report by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) denounced the ongoing use of torture and the impunity enjoyed by police who carry out these grave human rights abuses. The revolution and the transition have not fundamentally changed the bad practices of the past, it says, and “up to now there has been no judicial decision proportional to the gravity of the crime, based on Article 101 of the Tunisian Penal Code which sanctions torture. Failure to convict torturers boosts impunity”.

Still in Tunisia but on a more positive note, an exhibition at the Bardo Museum in Tunis looks at the three monotheistic religions and what they share in common. The place chosen to host the exhibition is symbolic, since the Bardo Museum was in 2015 the scene of one of the most deadly attacks in Tunisia of the post- Ben Ali era. JusticeInfo’s correspondent Olfa Belhassine writes: “Exhibiting here in a spirit of fertile interaction between the monotheistic religions, whose supporters have often been in violent conflict, shakes up entrenched ideas with grace.”

Crimes against humanity in Myanmar

Also to be noted this week is a UN report which says that Myanmar's military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims has likely killed hundreds of people, with children slaughtered and women raped. It describes the violence in Rakhine state as "purposeful policy" designed by one group to remove another group from an area "through violent and terror-inspiring means". The report says it is “very likely” that crimes against humanity have been committed against the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority despised by many in the country’s Buddhist majority. The arrival in power last March of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has apparently done nothing to improve their situation.