November 23, 2016 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Foreign Affairs Minister of Netherlands has encouraged African leaders not to withdraw their membership from the International Criminal Court (ICC), stating that the proposed withdrawals of three African Countries from the ICC was unexpected, while admitting that the criticisms about the court were not new.
Bert Koenders was on Monday speaking at the opening ceremony of the 15th Session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he stated that the ICC was investigating African cases because few other non-African countries were not party to the Rome Statute that established the court.
He added that 10 out of all the cases that were now before the court concern African countries “not due to an absence of atrocities elsewhere in the world” but because “African countries refer themselves to the court.”
He said three African countries – South Africa, Burundi and Gambia – announced their withdrawal from the court last month, citing anti- African bias. Russia, he said also withdrew last week and that data from the United Nations showed that the number of war crimes and crimes against humanity has actually increased in recent years.
“We need only to look at the outrages committed in Syria, Yemen and North Korea. These crimes seem to go unpunished. That is hard to our stomach,” he said.
“But the cause of this inequality is not the ICC itself. The court is independent and impartial, as a court ought to be. And it is carrying out the task it was set up to do,” he said.
He further stated that the problem was that a few countries were party to the Rome Statute and that ICC only has jurisdiction in the 124 States Parties to that statute.
“As a result, many perpetrators escape justice. A large number of countries, including superpowers and major regional powers, do not participate despite the fact that some of them are involved in conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen. Unlike the 34 African countries that participate in the ICC, they are unwilling to facilitate accountability for crimes – or to render account themselves,” he said.
“There is a built-in ‘workaround’ for this problem. The UN Security Council can refer a situation to the ICC. This means that the ICC can punish the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, even if the country concerned is not a party to the Rome Statute. However, that workaround is not always effective. Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China and the US – are not parties to the Rome Statute.”
He continued that : “Not only does this mean that the ICC is unable to exercise jurisdiction over them, but those countries can also use their veto to block any referral, thus protecting themselves and others. This means that many potential cases never come before the ICC.
He added that withdrawal of Africa Leaders from the ICC was not a solution, thus urging them to work together with like-minded countries to apply pressure on the United States, Russia and China to become parties to the Rome Statute.
“If you think that the ICC is disproportionately targeting Africa, urge every country in the world to sign up to the Rome Statute. Make it a priority of your foreign policy and negotiations,” Koenders said.