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The Tenth ICC Session: More Pro-African?

Will Africa benefit if Gambian Fatou Bensouda replaces Chief Prosecutor Morena-Ocampo?
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Fatou Bensouda, the favourite to become the new ICC Chief Prosecutor

Nairobi, Kenya:

Ahead of the tenth session of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be held at the UN Headquarters in New York this December, a consortium of 26 civil society and international organisations operating in Africa have been urging African governments to reinforce their support of the court. This comes amid recent attacks on the court by certain African leaders and calls by the African Union (AU) for non-cooperation with ICC over the arrest warrants issued for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

Tipping the balance of authority

The tenth session of the ICC will also be highly significant for African nations in that it will see the election of a new chief prosecutor to replace the Argentine Louis Morena-Ocampo. It is highly likely that ICC deputy prosecutor and Gambian Fatou Bensouda will be elected. The assembly will also come as the former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo becomes the first African former head-of-state to formally face charges at the ICC.

The new chief prosecutor will assume office with a list of priorities containing at least six African situations, which has prompted the AU to complain of selective justice towards Africa. If Bensouda takes over, many are awaiting to see how she will handle the delicate balance between professionalism and appeasing the AU’s perspective.

Testing times

Interestingly, Kenya’s High Court this week issued an arrest warrant against the Sudanese leader if he visits Kenya, a move which has led to a very heated diplomatic confrontation between Nairobi and Khartoum. The Kenyan government had previously committed to the AU position of not upholding the ICC’s indictment of Bashir and has engaged in numerous security and diplomatic initiatives with Sudan. Kenya’s recent move is thus a notable break with previous policy.

To complicate matters further for Sudan, the ICC on Friday December 2 issued an arrest warrant against Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur. The ICC believes he bears criminal responsibility for the same crimes and incidents presented in the arrest warrants previously issued by the ICC for government minister Ahmed Harun and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb. This is the ICC’s fourth case in Darfur and the court has also issued summonses to rebel leaders Abdallah Banda, Saleh Jerbo and Abu Garda over alleged war crimes.

This same week, Amnesty International unsuccessfully called upon Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to detain the former US president George Bush, involved in a cervical and breast cancer and HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, for authorising the war in Iraq.

An emerging gap

Among other things, the consortium of civil society groups is urging African leaders ahead of the assembly to emulate the earlier commitments made by Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger who promised to abide by the ICC in assisting the court’s investigation of Libya and former president Muammar Gaddafi.

According to Jemima Njeri Kariri from the International Crime in Africa Programme (ICAP), even though ICC is not a perfect institution, African governments are duty-bound to reject arbitrary reductions to the ICC budget and ensure adequate resources to implement its mandate.

“A wide gap is emerging between resources requested by the court and willingness of some states parties to meet the costs. Particularly, some states parties are insisting on zero growth in the court’s budget for 2012 in spite of an increased workload," said Njeri on behalf of civil society groups. "While states parties should engage court officials on increasing the efficient use of resources, reasonable growth is necessary to meet new demands." 

The groups which include Human Rights Watch, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (Sierra Leone), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (Malawi), Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Zambia), and Coalition Burundaise pour la CPI (Burundi) want faster domestication and implementation of the ICC’s Rome Statute. This was ratified by Tunisia and Cape Verde this year, underlining Africa’s fight against impunity, and increasing the share of African states parties to ICC to 33 out of 119 globally.

Other national and international NGOs and civil society groups are among the signatories: Amnesty International,  Arche d'Alliance, Association pour les Droits de l'Homme et l'Univers Carcéral (DRC), Children Education Society ( Tanzania) Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre ( Nigeria), Coalition Béninoise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CPI) (Benin), Coalition Centrafricaine pour la CPI (Central African Republic), West African Bar Association (Nigeria), Southern Africa Litigation Centre (South Africa) and  Coalition for Justice and Accountability (Sierra Leone) among others.

During 2010 ICC Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda, several African states committed to advance implementation of the Rome Statute domestically. Its ratification and enforcement is essential to build the national capacity of states to prosecute for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and to facilitate cooperation with the court.

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