The proposal by leaders at the African Union to move forward a policy of “collective withdrawal” from the Rome Statute, the foundational treaty of member states to the International Criminal Court (ICC), is a source of real concern.
African governments have raised many objections to the way the ICC is run, and made credible claims about the independence of some of the court’s organs, including the Office of the Prosecutor.
There have been valid arguments that the ICC has not been even-handed enough in its application of justice and the fact that there is no chance that individuals from powerful member states which fund the body, especially in Europe, can face trial at the court is a source of worry.
Further, the fact that important players on the international scene such as the US, Russia, India and China are not signatories to the Rome Statute is problematic considering it leaves a large proportion of the global population uncovered by the court’s remit.
In the case of the remaining Kenya cases in The Hague involving Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has complained about the reluctance of the ICC to accept the views of member states that recanted evidence should not guide the decisions of judges.
The solution, though, is not for African states to pull out of the ICC but rather for them to press for internal changes to make it better.
It is an indisputable fact that Africans disproportionately bear the brunt of crimes perpetrated by their leaders, including mass murder and displacement.
The ICC plays an important role in offering justice to victims. What the institution needs is internal reforms to make its application of justice more even-handed and its prosecutorial team more efficient and effective.
The proposed African Court of Justice is still a long way off and it is by no means clear either that it can be effective or that there is funding available from the AU to sustain an institution with such a lofty mandate.
Leaving the ICC with no credible mechanism for justice for mass crimes in sight would be an error of colossal proportions.
It is far better for member states to stay in the court and advocate reforms rather than bolting and leaving millions on the continent unprotected by an international court which can step in when national institutions fail.