Why Africans need the ICC

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s recent brush with South African law has reignited calls for the reform of the ICC and other world bodies in general.

These calls are founded on the feeling of injustice against Africa and that Africa should be afforded an equal seat at the global table.

While this is commendable, the sad truth is that most of these calls are disingenuous and are coming from a section of leaders, who have fallen foul of international law and have abused their power and oppressed their citizens.

The debate on Africa and the ICC has been characterised by emotion and polarisation and sadly, substance and logic have been forced to take a backseat.

Let’s take the al-Bashir case for example, very few people are debating the accusations he faces and rather the debate is on how the ICC victimises African leaders. Al-Bashir is accused of perpetrating a genocide, a dastardly crime, and it is only fair he has his day in court.

Unfortunately what escapes those of us who are against the ICC is that it is highly unlikely, nay impossible, that a Sudanese court may try him. He just got re-elected, with a jaw-dropping 94% and what this means is he will not be brought before a local court anytime soon.

This is the situation, no matter how flawed, that necessitates the need for the ICC, where al-Bashir and his like can be brought before a court to face justice, which they continue to evade in their home countries.

To the people of South Sudan, the flaws of the ICC are minute compared to the alleged injustices they suffered at the hands of al-Bashir and for them seeing al-Bashir in the dock will help them find closure and justice for the years they suffered at his hands.

Some argue that Sudan and South Sudan need Bashir so they can find peace and end years of injustice. I find this argument quite worrying and duplicitous, Bashir has been the author of South Sudanese suffering and all of a sudden he is expected to be a peacemaker.

Others have argued for an African criminal court, a fair argument, but wholly inadequate. Firstly, we do have an African Court on Human and people’s rights, and only 27 of the continent’s 54 countries are party to the protocol on that court.

In 2008 there was an agreement by African leaders to come up with an African court of justice and by last year only five countries had signed up. Another example is the SADC tribunal, which fell apart because Zimbabwe wasn’t too happy with its rulings and decided to collapse it. There are efforts to resuscitate it, but who is to say some other country won’t find its judgements unpalatable and collapse it.

What is clear then is that African leaders do not want the ICC, they don’t want African courts and obviously most can run roughshod over their own judicial systems. This leaves us with the question; why are African leaders so averse to justice?

Unsurprisingly, the calls for Africa to re-evaluate its relationship with the ICC have come from Zimbabwe, which holds the AU chairmanship. Zimbabwe, like Sudan and unlike most African nations, has not ratified the Rome Statute.

This is not because Zimbabwe and Sudan are the leading lights of pan Africanism and the champions of African self-determination, but it’s because they are sites of some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by leaders on their own citizens.

The ICC, for all its shortcomings, gives oppressed people hope that one day, their tormentors will face the music and justice shall be served.

The truth is if some African leaders were the upstanding people they are supposed to be, then they would never be indicted by the ICC.

The ICC has many faults, but for millions of Africans, it is their only hope to see justice being served.

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