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African Union: Resolution Urges States to Leave ICC

(Feb. 10, 2017) On February 1, 2017, the African Union (AU) issued a resolution, based on a decision taken the day before, encouraging member nations to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). (African Union Backs Mass Withdrawal from ICC, BBC NEWS (Feb. 1, 2017); Gwenyth Gamble, African Union Leaders Back Leaving ICC, PAPER CHASE (Feb. 1, 2017).)

The AU resolution is non-binding, and Nigeria and Senegal have said they oppose withdrawal from the ICC.  South Africa, the Gambia, and Burundi have already withdrawn from the Court, but Gambia now is planning to rejoin. (African Union Backs Mass Withdrawal from ICC, supra; Mark Kersten, What the ICC Can Do to Improve Its Relationship with African States, JUSTICE IN CONFLICT (Nov. 1, 2016); Kaddijatou Jawo, Gambia to Return to ICC, Commonwealth, Says Barrow, POINT (Feb. 8, 2017).)

The adoption of the resolution followed debate on the subject at the annual AU summit meeting, held in Addis Ababa. The reason for the push to withdraw is the view of many African leaders that the ICC has unfairly targeted Africans, and the Court thereby undermines the sovereignty of African states.  The resolution stated that the AU would bring up reform of the ICC with the United Nations Security Council.  (African Union Backs Mass Withdrawal from ICC, supra.) The AU reportedly supports a strategy of regionalization of international law, under which there would be a special African war crimes court. (Aaron Maasho, African Leaders Cautiously Back Strategy to Quit Global Court, REUTERS AFRICA (Feb. 1, 2017).)

Opponents of the withdrawal from the ICC are concerned that the risk of violations of human rights in African states would rise. (Gamble, supra.) The Foreign Minister of Nigeria said that the ICC plays an important role in holding leaders accountable for their actions and that “Nigeria is not the only voice agitating against [withdrawal], in fact Senegal is very strongly speaking against it, Cape Verde, and other countries are also against it.” (Elise Keppler, AU’s ‘ICC Withdrawal Strategy’ Less than Meets the Eye, Human Rights Watch website (Feb. 1, 2017).)

Background

The African Union (AU) was formed in 1999 with a vision of creating an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.” (AU in a Nutshell, AU website (last visited Feb. 2, 2017).) The ICC “investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (About, ICC website (last visited Feb. 2, 2017).)

Although the ICC denies that it has specifically focused solely on Africa, the Court has only prosecuted African leaders since it began operations in 2002. (African Union Backs Mass Withdrawal from ICC, supra.) The withdrawal of African states could be significant for the ICC, as those countries constitute almost one-third of the members of the Court. (Gamble, supra.)

Concern about the operations of the ICC has been expressed by the AU for several years. As far back as 2010, the AU sought to have procedural changes made in the Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC. (Hanibal Goitom, African Union: Amendment to Rome Statute of International Criminal Court Sought, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Feb. 16, 2010); Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/ (as amended to July 12, 1999), United Nations website.) In April 2016, the AU told its Economic, Social, and Cultural Council to evaluate the Council’s relationship with the ICC, and on July 16, 2016, an AU advisory board stated that the ICC had focused its investigations on African leaders from its founding. The Council then recommended that African nations pull out of the ICC. (Matthew Santiago, AU Advisory Board Accuses ICC of Bias Against African Nations, PAPER CHASE (July 18, 2016.)