As member states of the International Criminal Court prepare to gather later this month (Nov 16 – 24) in The Hague, the news that three among them — all from Africa — have declared their plans to leave the court will cast a long shadow over events. Following an earlier announcement that Burundi’s parliament had voted to withdraw the country from the Rome Statute (the court’s founding treaty), South Africa surprised many when it submitted its own notice to the United Nations announcing its intention to withdraw. Later, The Gambia followed suit.
The withdrawals are part of a growing view among some members of the African Union that the Court is biased against Africa. Indeed, nine of the 10 situations investigated by the Court since it became operational in 2002 have been in Africa. However the “bias against Africa” arguments ignore the fact that 6 of these situations have been referred to the court by the governments themselves. Two others have been referred by the UN Security Council. The reality is that Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia each have their own internal political reasons for withdrawing from the court.
William Pace is convener of the Coalition for the ICC, a network of civil society organizations from 150 countries, based in New York and The Hague, where the court is also based. Commenting on the South Africa defection, he said: “Victims across Africa have called for justice time and again, either through national judicial systems or, when they fail, through the ICC. The Zuma government is demonstrating a terrible disregard for victims and the powerless in South Africa, throughout Africa and the world.”
Moreover, it is quite likely that more non-African cases will soon come onto the ICC’s docket, potentially unsettling this neo-colonial critique. The prosecutor’s current investigation in Georgia, for instance, pits it directly against Russian interests, while recent reports suggest that the office is also poised to soon open an investigation into crimes in Afghanistan, which could encompass the conduct of United States soldiers and there is a preliminary investigation ongoing into Iraq and U.K. soldiers.
In a time when international institutions are showing strain from lack of support from governments, it would be very helpful for governments like Canada to be more active diplomatically in defence of the ICC. Canada recently issued a statement in response to the South Africa withdrawal. And Canada was a leader years ago in the creation of the Court. Now the ICC needs Canada’s strong support once again, and there’s more that can and should be done.
What you can do
Write to Minister Dion, requesting that Canada become more active diplomatically, over the long term, in defence of the International Criminal Court.