Africa Should Not Destroy ICC,But......
to take place
Criminal Court (ICC), a move that could threaten
both recent efforts to punish the slaughter in
Syria and broader progress towards creating a
global system for prosecuting genocidaires and
other war criminals.
Tension between African states and the ICC is
nothing new. The ICC has so far indicted thirty
people in total, all of whom were African. The
African Union has been accusing the ICC of
“chasing Africans” since 2008. The appointment
of an ICC Prosecutor from the Gambia was
thought to perhaps dampen some of those
frayed ties, but so far to no avail.
Because the AU’s pullout threat is new — and
serious. The flashpoint is the just-began ICC trial
of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, indicted
for alleged involvement in the violence that
swept Kenya after the 2007 election. Ruto and
his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, are accused
of being responsible for a series of brutal crimes
against humanity during the strife. Kenyatta’s
trial is set to commence after Ruto’s.
The Kenyatta-Ruto trials mark the first time
either a sitting President or Vice President has
ever been tried by the ICC. AU officials have
argued that this unprecedented level of
accountability is harming Kenya’s ability to
participate as an equal state in world politics,
charges the ICC has dismissed. Scheduling a
meeting to discuss an en masse withdrawal is
the AU’s latest escalation.
It’s also one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“There’s no precedent that I know of for mass
withdrawal like this,” David Bosco, a professor at
American Univeristy who focuses on
international institutions, told ThinkProgress. “It
would be a really dramatic step. In many ways, it
would put the whole ICC project into jeopardy.”
There’s a simple reason for that, Bosco says.
“Not only are African states the largest region in
the court, but every single investigation has
been in Africa, and it’s likely that future cases
would be in Africa.” Given the prevalence of civil
conflict on the continent, including some deadly
but low-profile wars, Africa is depressingly likely
to be the most important continent for human
rights prosecutions for the foreseeable future.
States that withdraw could still be referred to the
ICC by the U.N. Security Council, but that’s a
much more cumbersome and political process
than the standard mechanism for indicting
states that are voluntarily under ICC jurisdiction.
The implications of a mass African pullout would
likely reverberate globally, particularly at a time
when 68 countries — including several African
ones — are pushing to refer Syria to the ICC. An
African pullout “would strengthen this argument
that, in essence, the ICC and international justice
is the imposition of certain norms on states that
may not necessarily agree with them,” Bosco
Though the evidence on whether the ICC actually
deters crimes against humanity, rather than
simply punishes them, is mixed, there’s some
reason to believe the court actually works. A
recent paper found evidence that the threat of
ICC prosecution successfully deterred would-be
torturers from torturing. University of Minnesota
Professor Katherine Sikkink’s research on human
right prosecutions more broadly found statistical
evidence that such prosecutions reduced the
likelihood of such abuses recurring in the future.
All that being said, the mere fact that the AU is
meeting to discuss a mass pullout from the ICC
doesn’t make it inevitable or even necessarily
likely. “I don’t think it’s at all a given that you’ll
get large scale withdrawal,” Bosco said, in part
because this meeting could simply be Kenyan
maneuvering to protest the ICC trial. But the
troubling consequences of a mass African pullout
means that the meeting alone needs to be taken