James Plunkett Weighs in on the African Union’s potential secession from the ICC.
Tensions continue to mount between the 54-member African Union and the Hague-based International Criminal Court amidst severe accusations from the AU that the ICC has become an inherently racist institution. All of the ICC’s eight current cases concern, in some respect, Africans, a fact that has become the rallying cry behind the accusations. The countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda are taking a hardliner approach to the issue, pushing for a mass pullout of all African countries from the ICC. The secession of all 34 African countries, out of the 122 that ratified the Rome Statute and founded the ICC, could critically damage the international legal institution.
This movement was spearheaded by the protest of current Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Vice President William Ruto against accusations of crimes against humanity by the Hague court. Despite the accusations Kenyatta pushed forward to win the recent Kenya presidential election and stoutly denies any connections to post-election violence 2007-2008 that left at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless. Backing Kenyatta is Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus, who argues that “Far from promoting justice and reconciliation…the court has transformed itself into a political instrument. This unfair and unjust treatment is totally unacceptable.” African political figures like Kenyatta, Ruto, and Ghebreyeus are tired of what they deem as the unfair and intensely racist policies and practices of the ICC; suggesting that a refusal to take part in the court is the only option left.
The continent as a whole, however, is from acquiescent. South African anti-apartheid icon and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu recently launched a scathing attack on the movement for succession, comparing ICC opponents to Nazis. “They simply vilify the institution as racist and unjust as Hermann Goering and his fellow Nazi defendants vilified the Nuremberg trials following World War II.” Tutu’s comments are supported by an open letter signed by more than 160 African civil society and human rights organizations that condemns the secession as a final move of African dictators to evade justice once and for all. Echoing this outrage, Kofi Annan recently stated that the pull-out would leave Africa wearing a “badge of shame.” These opponents to the secession suggest that the current cases in the ICC are merely a reflection of the vast political and structural violence on the continent.
Indeed, such a move could be the final straw for government structures of inequality that currently feign some shred of democracy, freedom, and equality. Tutu and other critics suggest that rulers like Uhuru Kenyatta or Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (now in power for almost 27 years) thrive through the perpetuation of fear, kleptocracy, and injustice. Their people follow not because they want to, or have the freedom to choose to, but because they are often given no other option. Are such men really dictators in presidents’ clothes or are they merely the scapegoats for unjust international accusations?
Regardless, it is certain that the secession of any such governments from the ICC would extinguish any current accountability that the aforementioned leaders now face, guilty or otherwise. The court, while certainly a flawed institution in itself, may be only existing structure that will keep suspected world leaders in check. I stand with the critics in terms of the analysis of the ICC as a watchdog organization; the bureaucratization of the international justice system and subsequent politicking gets nothing done. However, we must ask whether or not such accusations and policies are not justified. Has the ICC become another political tool for the perpetuation of structural violence in Africa or is the AU’s secession simply an evasion from accountability? Only time will tell.
–Photo: Flickr/United Nations Photo