Following Burundi’s example, two more African States announced their intention to leave the International Criminal Court: South Africa and Gambia.
South Africa has had a controversial relationship with the ICC since last year when it disregarded its responsibility to cooperate with the Court by refusing to arrest the then-visiting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. South Africa argued that such an obligation was in direct conflict with its domestic laws governing diplomatic immunity. Although the South African Court later ruled that letting President al-Bashir leave South Africa in 2015 was ‘disgraceful’, the South African Government has continued to state that the Rome Statute (namely Art. 27 addressing non-recognition of any form of immunity) is in direct conflict with South Africa’s Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act. The decision to withdraw from the ICC will become effective one year from the day the document withdrawing from the ICC was signed, October 19, 2016.
Following South Africa, Gambia this week also announced its intention to leave the ICC. In the televised announcement, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said that
[t]his action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.
Gambia cites reasons that are similar to those given by Burundi – that the ICC targets African States. In fact, the Court’s mandate, as stated in the Preamble of the Rome Statute, is to fight impunity by ensuring that “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished.” The Court is tasked with focusing on the international community, yet it has predominantly focused on number of African States. So far, the Court has officially investigated the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and Georgia; and the Court has conducted preliminary examinations (not always leading to opening an official investigation), among others, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Honduras, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Venezuela, and Burundi.
This recent development by three African states – Burundi, Gambia, and South Africa – based on the allegation that the Court targets Africa presents a major blow to the already unstable reputation of the International Criminal Court, the first permanent criminal court of its kind.
- Joe Brock, South Africa to Quite Troubled UN War Crimes Court, Reuters – World News (Oct. 21, 2016).
- Joe Bavier, Sandra Maler & Peter Cooney, Gambia Announces Withdrawal from International Criminal Court, Reuters – World News (Oct. 26, 2016).
- Agence France-Presse, South African Court Rules Failure to Detain Omar al-Bashir Was ‘Disgraceful’, The Guardian (Mar. 15, 2016).
- Mark Kersten, Sudan, South Africa and the Future of the International Criminal Court in Africa, The Washington Post (Oct. 13, 2016).