The Gambia has become the third African nation withdrawing its membership from the Hague-based International Criminal Court, accusing the body of not pursuing war crime charges against European nations.
Gambia’s withdrawal comes just days after Burundi and South Africa announced they were withdrawing from the international body, using a racial slur to describe the tribunal: “International Caucasian Court.”
“This action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is, in fact, an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans,” Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said.
The Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, who has lobbied heavily for his former Attorney General and Justice Minister Fatou Bensouda to become the ICC’s chief prosecutor, petitioned the tribunal to investigate and prosecute EU nations over migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.
Although being mainland Africa’s smallest nation with a population fewer than two million people, The Gambia has the fourth largest number of migrants arriving by sea to Europe.
“There are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted,” says The Gambia’s government.
Gambia’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC is no surprise to many, but not expected this early. Many say, South Africa, seen as the last stronghold for democracy and human rights might have opened a floodgate for brutal African regimes like The Gambia’s to withdraw.
“Unsurprisingly, South Africa, which many have long viewed as the continent’s democratic standard and human rights exemplar, has provided cover to the region’s dictatorships to follow suit,” according to Vanguard Africa’s Jeffrey Smith. “The decision made in Pretoria was a gift to despots and brutal dictators like Yahya Jammeh, allowing them to effectively evade responsibility for the mass human rights abuses they have committed at home.”
President Jammeh has long mulled withdrawing from the International Criminal Court after Kenya’s parliament passed a resolution to pull out in 2013. Jammeh publicly criticized the prosecution of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Vice President, a case the ICC lost.
President Yahya Jammeh who has declared The Gambia an Islamic state has been accused by rights groups of some of the worst rights violations in West Africa and has been accused of cracking down on political dissidents ahead of the country’s December presidential polls.
Jammeh unilaterality pulled The Gambia out of the Commonwealth of Nations in 2013 and considers both the ICC and the Commonwealth neo-colonial institutions that are persecuting African leaders.
ICC Prosecutor Bensouda in June has asked her team to assess the situation in her native Gambia after violent squelching on political activists demanding electoral reform left two dead and many wounded.