International Criminal Court: In asking ‘Why Africa?’ speculation is rife, impassioned and often simply wrong that the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or the “Court”), is too focused on Africa has been and remains perhaps the most pervasive – and unfounded – critique of its work. Words such as ‘biased’, ‘targeted’ and ‘politicised’ dominate the public and media narrative. But dramatic headlines obscure the truth and distort the public understanding of what we do.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, said when the Conference that founded the ICC commenced some 17 years ago, the eyes of the world were on its delegates to herald in a new era of accountability for atrocity crimes. African leaders were among the staunchest advocates for the Court.
Indeed, since its inception, the African continent and African States individually have played a major role in the creation and functioning of the ICC and have supported the institution at each step of its development.
First, as mentioned, African States were extremely supportive and active when the Rome Statute – the founding treaty of the ICC – was being negotiated. This was driven by African Heads of State, civil society, and other stakeholders from the continent recognising that the ICC was an important independent judicial mechanism that could curb mass atrocities, bring justice to the victims, and promote peace and stability. Those same motivations and interests are very much valid today.
The first country in the world to ratify the Rome Statute was Senegal. This historically important and symbolic act was soon followed by countless other states from the continent and around the world. Today, African countries represent the largest regional bloc of states which have ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC.
She admonished leaders not forget that history, adding that Africa then led the world of international criminal justice by ‘referring situations of mass atrocities to my Office for investigation; by cooperating with our investigations; by arresting and surrendering individuals sought by the ICC; and by protecting victims and witnesses.’
She said since the Court became operational in 2002, the court has received a number of formal requests from African states to investigate allegations of atrocities committed on their territories. Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, have all invited my Office to step in to investigate and prosecute.
The most recent country to call on my Office to investigate potential crimes committed on its own territory is the Central African Republic – and this, for a second time.