As African heads of state and government descend on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for an AU special summit, tomorrow, speculation is rife on the likely outcome of what seems to be make-or-break talks among African leaders over the continent’s association with the International Criminal Court.
The summit will specifically discuss ICC’s refusal to honour an AU resolution that the Hague-based court either refers to Kenya or defer cases of senior Kenyan leaders accused of crimes against humanity in the violence that followed the 2007 election in the east African country.
Thirty-four of Africa’s 54 nations are signatories to the Rome Statute which established the international court in 2002.
There have been growing calls for African states that ICC members should pull out at once but some have downplayed this saying there was no consensus.
Up to 122 countries are party to the Rome Statute but African members constitute the largest regional representation and therefore the latter’s walkout would deal a heavy blow to a tribunal that’s seen by many on the continent as “anti-African”, according to observers.
Some have accused the court, which has only pursued African cases (eight in total) racist and an agent of powerful western players who are bent on interfering with African matters.
An AU statement indicates that the summit will look into the progress of the AU Assembly’s resolution of May, this year, which asked the ICC to transfer to Kenya cases involving President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, to give peace and reconciliation a chance.
The court ignored the AU position and pushed ahead with the hearing of Ruto (which is underway), and has not granted President Kenyatta’s request to appear via a video link when his trial commences next month.
The UN has also shown indifference after Kenya and the African Union sought its intervention with regard to the ICC cases. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one diplomat who was part of a UN security council delegation that wound up a tour of the Great Lakes region this week, told journalists that the envoys informed the African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma that it was up to the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties to decide on whether to defer the Kenyan cases or not, and not the Security Council.
The Assembly of State Parties is made up of member countries that are parties to the court’s Rome Statute and its next session will take place next month.
But the process on how a country can pull out of the ICC is clear under Article 127 of the court’s Rome Statute.
“A State Party may, by written notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, withdraw from this Statute. The withdrawal shall take effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification, unless the notification specifies a later date,” the article states.
So, why is it taking an extraordinary meeting of African Heads of State to discuss the issue?
Analysts say that following the developments in Kenya and the outright refusal by the court to consider the AU request, many African leaders are increasingly getting concerned that the fate of Africans remains as much in other people’s hands today as it was during the colonial days.
Seeking common ground
To some, the ICC is nothing but an extension of former colonial masters’ influence on the continent.
Maitre Laurent Nkongoli, a commissioner at Rwanda’s National Human Rights Commission, with a 20-year career in international human rights law, says it’s important that Africans discuss on matters of common concern and seek a common ground.
“African leaders have an obligation to resist the wrongs that are committed against the continent,” he said, describing the ICC’s work as a destabilising factor as far as African peace and security are concerned.
“The Heads of State should adopt a resolution denouncing the ICC’s unjust practices towards the continent; it should be made clear that the court is unfortunately, contrary to what it portrays to be, a threat to Africa’s unity and healing. African countries need to act where their sovereignty is at stake,” he said.
Nkongoli said that African justice issues will never be addressed by the ICC but Africans themselves, calling for home-grown jurisdictions that are strong enough to handle local disputes. “Human rights are protected from home, not abroad.”
Prof. Pierre Rwanyindo, the director of the Kigali-based Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), said the chorus of disapproval against the ICC’s attitude towards Africa was akin to the clamour for independence 50 years ago.
Necessary but not selective
For instance, if the Kenyans have trusted these men to be their leaders and to spearhead the country’s reconciliation and healing process, why should the ICC say no, he wondered.
“Justice is necessary but it should not be selective,” said the head of the think-tank. “African countries signed up to the convention that established the ICC hoping the court was coming to deliver justice to everyone and go after injustices everywhere. Yet today they don’t see the court meeting those initial expectations,” he said.
The ICC has issued 28 indictments, all against Africans. While the court has initiated some of these cases, referrals for a couple of them came from African governments, and this is one of the points the defenders of the court have often advanced.
Athanase Rutabingwa, a Kigali-based lawyer and head of the country’s bar association, said it was up to individual members of the court to stay or break ranks with it. “Membership is voluntary and it is an individual decision of every country,” he said.
Reports indicate that some African countries have expressed reluctance at possible mass withdrawal of the African bloc from the court.
Rwanda is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC.