South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?Posted: 28 October, 2016
Author: Owiso Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL
While the decision by South Africa to commence the formal process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is shocking, honest observers will admit it was not entirely unforeseen. African countries through the African Union (AU) have long voiced misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it was just a matter of time before the usually slow-moving AU clock started ticking. The AU had earlier this year urged its members to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute. This was triggered by the refusal by the United Nations Security Council and the ICC to accede to the AU’s requests for suspension or termination of the cases against Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
While South Africa’s decision should be condemned, nothing much is likely to come of such condemnation. Treaties are a product of state consent and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state. Even if an argument could be advanced against such unilateralism, the process is still a political one which rests almost entirely with the political class, at least in imperfect democracies. South Africa’s move is likely to embolden other African countries to commence similar processes. South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy and the AU’s largest member contributor. It is also arguably one of Africa’s better-off imperfect democracies. For these reasons, it is often the case in continental affairs that other African countries hold on to their cards until South Africa plays after which they emerge from their cocoons and play theirs in more or less similar fashion. With the possible exception of ‘righteous’ Botswana and perhaps Mauritius that considers itself African only when the situation suits it, the possibility that other African countries will follow South Africa’s lead on the ICC cannot be ruled out. In light of such possibility, how then does Africa assure its citizens that the fight against impunity as is entrenched in its founding instrument is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?
Africa, the second most populous continent with the fastest growing population on the globe faces complex and integrated human security threats. From a broader perspective, human security is far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses respect for human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential. In Africa, addressing these issues requires alleviating poverty, promoting economic growth, freedom from fear and access to a healthy natural environment as well as and preventing conflict. Characteristically, Africa is associated with war, poverty, genocide, diseases and grievous abuses of human rights, prolonged armed conflicts and rising terrorist activities. Conventionally, the African Union has adopted several instruments to deal with these peace and security threats. This article focuses on increased armed conflicts and terrorist activities on the continent.
On 13 October 2013, leaders of African states will meet in Addis Ababa, under the African Union (AU) banner), to consider a possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). African leaders do not find favour with the ICC’s pursuit of Kenya’s “big men”- President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The AU draws links between the indictment of Kenyatta and Ruto with that of President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast. Having drawn such links, the AU is of the view that the ICC is a western plot to finish-off African leaders. What is striking of the AU’s ICC analysis is the complete lack of consideration for the victims, 99.9% of whom are Africans. It seems as though grave crimes against humanity are of much less importance when a few “big men” stand accused. What seems to be of extreme importance in the minds of African leaders is that, once again, one of their kind is wanted for crimes against humanity.
African heads of states are rarely united on any issue relevant to development of the continent, such as a common currency, the free movement of people and products, military interventions in war torn regions, etc. However, when it comes to protecting the likes of Bashir and Kenyatta, the AU is zealously united – without regard to the victims of atrocities.