Fatou Bensouda has one of the toughest jobs on earth – going after tyrants, war criminals and genocide despots – but she now has to deal with claims that the International Criminal Court is racist and unfairly targeting Africans.
Luis Moreno Ocampo is an Argentine lawyer and first prosecutor of the court. African leaders charged that the tribunal was targeting them after Ocampo charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The claims of ICC targeting Africans have gained traction after its failed attempt to prosecute Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto.
Burundi on Thursday has officially notified the UN of its withdrawal from the court but such does not have an impact as a withdrawal from Kenya and South Africa.
After South Africa made its intent to withdraw known, mainland Africa’s smallest country, The Gambia announced it is also withdrawing. The Gambia is one of Africa’s most repressive regimes and its president, Yahya Jammeh is an eccentric despot notorious for extrajudicial executions, enforced detention, torture and rights abuses. But this is not true of not just The Gambia, but of other nations known to be dictatorships like Zimbabwe, Swaziland, DR Congo, Chad, South Sudan and Cameroon.
Kenya was the first to call for African nations to withdraw from the Rome Statute, but South Africa is seen as the standard to measure human rights, good governance, and democracy in Africa. Its withdrawal has opened a floodgate for nations like The Gambia to easily depart. Burundi, for example, is withdrawing after the ICC alleged that crimes against humanity were committed in the country and that Burundian authorities were complicit in many cases of abuse.
The Gambia’s withdrawal has given traction to the withdrawal and it may not necessarily isolate the small nation. Chad, Kenya, and Namibia are likely to announce their withdrawal in the coming week.
Many hoped that having an African as the chief prosecutor of the court will soften critics of the ICC but the tribunal’s prosecutor who is from repressive Gambia could not stop the criticism from intensifying. Gambian authorities in announcing their withdrawal from the court called it the “International Caucasian Court,” accusing it of “humiliating people of color, especially Africans.”
There may be more withdrawals but the call by some other African nations, notably Botswana to advocate for reforms from within and Senegal urging South Africa and Burundi to reconsider their positions may prevent a continent-wide pulling out.