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Siege mentality against the ICC unfortunate

Saturday October 12 2013

The sustained criticism of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the African Union risks ruining the credibility of both organisations.

The latest push is hinged on Kenya’s cases at The Hague-based court involving President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, with arguments in a two-day AU summit that ended on Saturday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, stressing a continental siege mentality. (READ: Uhuru told not to show up at ICC)

There is the persuasive suggestion that based on the cases it is investigating and prosecuting, the ICC is unfairly targeting African leaders. To put it bluntly, some have accused the court of racism and neocolonialism. Charging sitting presidents has particularly come under sharp criticism with accusations that the court is trampling on the dignity and sovereignty of African countries. 

While nobody can claim the ICC is perfect, its central role in the international justice system to end impunity by deterring and punishing crimes must be appreciated. Modern Africa’s history lists an unenviable roll of infamy with some of the world’s worst dictatorial and inept leaders.

Things may slowly be changing for the better, but questions still linger about the continent’s democracy and stability. Having an independent international system that holds leaders to account surely cannot be a bad thing.  

This is a court of last resort that usually acts, often upon referral by member states, when local processes fail to serve justice. Further, the ICC brings charges against individuals, not countries or continents. The Kenyan cases are no different.

It does not, therefore, help matters that the AU has chosen to turn the personal circumstances facing various leaders into a collective grievance without a word about victims of the alleged crimes. (READ: AU blames UN, ICC for double standards)

There is a risk of the AU’s agenda being interpreted as elitist self-preservation. We think a strong ICC is in the best interests of Kenya and Africa.

A more constructive venue to air grievances and propose changes would be the annual assembly of state parties to the Rome Statute to be held next month.