Sealing the lid on ICC

By Tiri Masawi

Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah last week sealed the lid on the thorny issue of dumping the International Criminal court (ICC) opting  to strengthen domestic legal institutions, a view widely supported by many Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union member states.

The hotly contested issue has already been on the agenda of the  AU and has somewhat split the institution with some members keeping their faith in the ICC, while the bulk of countries steered by the Southern and Eastern African members are keen to write an obituary for the ICC.

Nandi-Ndaitwah, also minister for International Relations and Cooperation, confirmed in the National Assembly that there is a definite political will for Namibia to support the stand by a number of African Union and SADC members, apart from Botswana, to do away with the Rome Statute which gave birth to the ICC.

“Africa needs to develop its own legal processes, systems, courts and institutions. It will help us to be self-sufficient and build lasting institutions,”  Nandi-Ndaitwah told the Namibian Parliament.

Nandi-Ndaitwah statement comes at a time proponents of the withdrawal from the ICC concur that the court  has become an institution driven by the desire to institutionalise selective justice with a deliberate targeting of Africans  at the expense of all the other regions.

The ICC was established through the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, often referred to as the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute.

It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on 17 July 1998 and it entered into force on 1 July 2002.  The Rome Statute established four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.

Ironically the Hague-based court is yet to trial anyone from the first world countries who in the past have been linked to questionable decisions that saw the death of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps so vivid in the memories of Africans that do not see the benefit of the ICC is how the duo of former United States President George Bush Jnr. and his ally former British Prime Minister Tony Blair are still walking free without any chances of facing international justice following their alliance to bomb Iraq resulting in the capture and execution of that country’s former President Saddam Hussein on charges of producing weapons of mass destruction.

While history has recorded Hussein’s demise well and western media went on the overdrive to celebrate the fall of the former Iraq strong man, a British investigation has proven that Blair acted irrationally and on flawed intelligence.

On the other hand most African countries that are against the ICC are irked by the fact that the United States which backs the court with all resources at its disposal is not a signatory to the Rome Statute rendering the powerful nation immune to persecution by the court.

In fact that none engagement by the Americans renders them clear of any possibility of ever being tried at the court.

In the most recent manoeuvres the ICC dragged former Democratic Republic of Congo rebel leader and Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba to answer to charges of war crimes committed during the time of severe instability in the Great Lakes region.

Bemba was found guilty, on 21 March 2016, of two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape, and pillaging) and slapped with an 18 year jail term.

The crimes were committed in Central African Republic (“CAR”) from on or about 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003 (“2002-2003 CAR Operation”) by a contingent of Mouvement de Libération du Congo (“MLC”) troops.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor also had his day in the ICC for his misdeeds that saw the killing of thousands of people when he was on the throne.

The most criticised move by the International Criminal Court is when it made a sitting President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta face the wrath of answering to charges of crimes against humanity. While Kenyatta complied with the request to answer to these charges at The Hague despite being a sitting President of a country he was later acquitted at the court.

Regional view

Namibia’s calls are also closed backed by its major trading partner South Africa which was left with an egg on the face last year after being put under pressure to arrest sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Although the South African ruling  Africa National Congress party is firmly behind pulling out of the league of nations that back the ICC the regional economic powerhouse still faces a herculean legal impediment following recent pronouncements by their constitutional court that the decision to dump the ICC is illegal.

Zimbabwe has also through its President Robert Mugabe expressed dissatisfaction with the operations of the ICC and has not kept its reservations on the continued engagement with the under fire court. Zimbabwe, though a fierce critic of the ICC, is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.

However Botswana has somewhat been the odd one out as its government has maintained its faith in The Hague court which it argues is a perfect vehicle for implementing justice.

While the ICC’s fate in Africa is one that is heavily contested and modalities on how most countries should orchestrate a mass pullout are still being looked into, the court is led by an African, Fatou Bom Bensouda from the Gambia, who once served as a legal adviser to that country’s exiled Yahyah Jammeh. Critics view the use of an African as a chief prosecutor for the ICC as a way of creating acceptability within the continent.

April 2017
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