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The International Criminal Court and African Leaders’ Concern 
IDEA Editorial
October 11, 2013


The precursor to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that was called upon by the Commission of Responsibilities. The Paris Conference initiative to establish an international tribunal, however, did not gain currency until the League of Nations addressed the issue again on November 1937, in which only thirteen countries signed but the idea of finding a permanent international tribunal was not ratified. Nevertheless, the idea persisted and this time it was precipitated by the Nuremberg Trials and the Tokyo Tribunals presided over by the Allied Forces following WWII. By 1950, the UN General Assembly was poised to establish an international tribunal, but this initiative too was circumvented by the Cold War. 

The obstacles to the finding of an international tribunal are clearly a manifestation of reactive (not proactive) international conferences and institutions such as the Paris Peace Conference, the League of Nations, and the United Nations. In between the time of the above initiatives and 1989, nothing tangible happened until the Government of Trinidad and Tobago proposed the creation of international tribunal in order to combat and monitor illegal international drug trafficking. Meanwhile, ad hoc tribunals were established to try war criminals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. 

Finally, a decade after the Trinidad and Tobago proposal and series of negotiations by the international community, on June 1998, the UN General Assembly convened a conference in Rome for the purpose of establishing the international criminal court (ICC), and on July 1998, 120 countries endorsed and signed the UN initiative; seven countries objected and twenty-one abstained. By April 2002, the Rome Statute became a binding treaty although countries like the United States, China, and Israel voted against it. This is how the ICC came into being.

So far, in the last eleven years, i.e. since the inception of the Rome Statute and the ICC began its performance as a world arbiter to adjudicate crimes against humanity and war crimes in general, its focus has been on Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Libya, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali. The ICC has indicted 32 people and issued arrest warrants to over twenty individuals, including Omar al-Bashir of Sudan over the crimes in Darfur. The ICC also sentenced the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor to fifty years imprisonment for alleged war crimes in Sierra Leone.

From February 2013 to October 2013, the ICC has investigated criminal charges vis-à-vis the former president of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, the Ruta Sang of Kenya, and the Lubanga trial in relation to the DR Congo. Ngudjolo Chui, who was acquitted and released in relation to the Katanga crime charges, but he would be back to the Court because the Prosecutor of the ICC has appealed the acquittal. The Kenyatta trial is also scheduled to begin on November 2013.

In one form or another, the above cases have legitimacy not only in the eyes of the ICC but also in light of justice and world public opinion. There is no doubt that Charles Taylor has committed war crimes and genocide against the people of his own country Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone; Omar al-Bashir equally should be held to account in regards to the atrocities and horrendous crimes perpetrated against the people of Darfur. 

However, although the ICC could be a nightmare to potential criminals, especially heads of states, it could also lose ground if it is selective, arbitrary, and discriminatory in its deliberations. If it is blindfolded and focuses on Africa only, African leaders have a legitimate concern against the ICC and they have already articulated their reservation on the Court. The African leaders concern is understandable because the ICC is cognizant of the fact that 139 countries worldwide are somehow implicated with crimes against humanity, but it looks that the Court has either ignored or indefinitely postponed other countries while it deliberately or inadvertently zeroed in on Africa. This position of the ICC could be interpreted as neo-colonial subterfuge and also could become a bonus, by default, to potential criminals in escaping criminal charges. 

However, beyond the “double standard” of the ICC, as charged by Hailemariam Desalegn, the Prime Minster of Ethiopia, the bottom line to all these nuisance of criminality and justice should be one important question: who is to judge who? The Prime Minster of Ethiopia is talking on behalf of Africa because he is the current chair of the African Union and he clearly stated that he is in favor of accountability of war criminals but he is opposed to the ICC because the latter “is not operating according to the Rome Statute; it is not a just organization.”

What the ICC is doing is the same what the European Union (EU) observers have been doing when they come to Africa to observe how well African countries conduct their periodic elections. The mission and purpose of the so-called world observers is pretty clear: Africans could not govern their affairs and some overseeing groups, government representatives, or institutions should always come and provide litmus tests to Africans. The latter monitoring action of the observers, in turn, engenders dependency and inferiority complex upon Africans.

On the other hand, Africans should not always blame former colonizers or the US for that matter for their own failures. They should not act as cry babies and immerse themselves in finger pointing and scapegoat. They should, on the contrary, prove to the world that they could run their own affairs; that they could solidify their regional organizations and strengthen the African Union and boldly assert their self-determination, and most importantly, African leaders must prove to the world that they can conduct good governance via genuine democracy; and unless and until democracy anchors into the political and social fabric of Africa, issues pertaining to the binding Statute of Rome could only foster dilemma and indecision on the part of the international community. 

On behalf of the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA, Inc.), Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD. Copyright © IDEA, Inc. 2013