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‘ICC, A Court To Benefit Africa’s Victims’

‘ICC, A Court To Benefit Africa’s Victims’
  • PublishedJuly 27, 2012

The 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 1 July 2012 presents a good opportunity to examine its track record vis-à-vis its largest constituency, Africa, writes Tiina Intelmann, Estonia’s ambassador-at-large for the ICC, who also serves as the president of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute.

NO DOUBT, THE ICC’S engagement with Africa has led to voluminous criticism, some of it in the pages of this distinguished publication. However, despite all the criticism, Africa remains the single largest constituency of the ICC in terms of the number of states that have joined its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

After Senegal became the first country to ratify the Rome Statute, 32 other African states followed suit. The ICC simply could not function without the continued support of these states.

As the new prosecutor, Ms Fatou Bensouda, never tires of saying, the majority of requests for cooperation issued by her office are directed towards African states and the vast majority of such requests are acceded to promptly and fully.

It is only fitting that Africans should occupy a number of key positions in the ICC. Four of its judges, including its first vice president hail from Africa, as does the deputy registrar and one of the two vice presidents of the Assembly of States Parties.

That Ms Bensouda, a Gambian national, recently took over as prosecutor, hardly needs repeating. These are all key positions in the everyday reality of the ICC’s operation.

I humbly submit that the ICC is not targeting African states as, indeed, it does not and cannot target states at all. What it has done and will continue to do is target the perpetrators of the crimes the international community considers to be most heinous: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

I would also like to remind your readers that the allegation of exclusive focus on Africa is not correct. In fact, the Court is also conducting preliminary examinations in other parts of the world.

In its seven situation countries, the ICC is conducting investigations and prosecutions in order to bring justice to African victims where – either on the account of the unwillingness or the inability of the state concerned – they have no hope of seeking such justice nationally.

As the President of Botswana, Lt-Gen Seretse Khama Ian Khama, stated at the last session of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties, of which I am president, “the reality is that atrocious human rights abuses and other serious crimes that merit the ICC’s attention have and continue to be committed in Africa.”

There can be no doubt that the ICC and its founding document, the Rome Statute, have limitations. One of these is that, for better or for worse, the ICC can only become active in countries that have joined its statute or in situations that have been referred to it by the UN Security Council.

So the answer to the question of why the ICC has turned a blind eye to situations beyond the States Parties is an easy one: because it must.

For those concerned with peace, security and justice in the world, perhaps one of the questions to ask would be, what criteria does the UN Security Council use to decide whether or not to refer a situation to the ICC?

That having been said, the ICC and especially its States Parties have much work to do to better the mutual understanding between Africa and the Court, the African States and other States Parties.

I assure you that improving the relations with Africa is at the very top of the agenda for all involved, myself included. To that end, I have travelled and will continue to travel to Africa, in order to speak with states and officials of the African Union.

In Addis Ababa and elsewhere, I found a genuine willingness to have a conversation about the ICC as the court of last resort. It is equally important to discuss how to reinforce the feeling of political ownership of the Rome Statute system among African States Parties.

I come from Estonia that has, in its past, experienced situations that would have probably fallen under the purview of the ICC, had it been in existence then.

When President Khama said at the last Assembly of States Parties that “victims of heinous crimes have as much right to protection and justice as anyone else, even where the perpetrator is a State”, he might as well have been giving the reasons for Estonia’s continued commitment to the ICC.

Within its jurisdiction, it seeks to hold those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to account, and bring justice to the victims of these crimes.

Written By
New African

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