Africa and the ICC: a dynamic relationship
By Tiina Intelmann
The relationship between Africa and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is remarkable in its history, and dynamic.
Africa and the ICC share the fundamental value of fighting impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. Africa was one of the key players in the inception of the Court. African States participated at the Rome Conference in July 1998, where the Rome Statute, the founding treaty for the ICC, was drafted. Forty-seven African states were present; many of these countries were members of the Like-Minded Group that pushed for adoption of the final Statute. In the historic vote that was taken at the end of the Rome Conference, the vast majority of the 47 African countries involved in drafting the Statute voted in favor of adopting the Rome Statute and establishing the ICC. In a matter of months, Senegal became the first country to ratify the Statute, followed by a steady flow of other African countries. This contributed to reaching, in a rather short period, the required number of ratifications for the entry into force of the Statute on July 1st, 2002.
Today, the Rome Statute has 122 States Parties, 34 of which are African, thus constituting the largest regional group.
Almost eleven years into its existence, the International Criminal Court is increasingly busy. It is dealing with eight active situations which have largely come to the Court’s attention through requests by the States concerned that the ICC get involved and start investigations because the domestic options to investigate crimes could not be used. Indeed, the ICC was created as a court of last resort, to become active when everything else fails. The referrals by States of their own situations constitute a practical vote of confidence in the Court and they have emanated from Africa. Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic referred their own situations within less than three years after the Court started functioning. Yet another African State, Mali, referred its situation to the Court last year, and a few days ago Prosecutor Bensouda received a request from Comoros to start an ICC investigation. It is also good to know that Côte d’Ivoire, which became a State Party very recently, made several declarations accepting the jurisdiction of the Court before that, allowing the ICC to start investigations on its territory.
In all the situations described above, the ICC, the institution created by us collectively in Rome, is rendering service to States Parties.
Unfortunately, the perceived Africa-only focus of the ICC has created resentment in Africa and difficulties in African States’ relationship with the ICC.
Let us not forget, however, that the current focus on African situations also means a focus on African victims. Significant voluntary international contributions have been used through the Trust Fund for Victims, established under the Rome Statute, to assist more than 80 000 victims of atrocity crimes, including victims of sexual violence. It is fair to assume that without the activities of that Fund, all those African victims would have received little or no assistance at all.
I sincerely hope that the recent voluntary surrender of Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC will serve as an example for other persons who are sought by the Court and are trying to evade justice.
More generally, ICC decisions – like those of ad hoc international criminal tribunals – will have a much wider significance than simply punishing those persons that have been found guilty of committing international crimes. It is telling that the former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, stated the following when the Thomas Lubanga guilty verdict was delivered by the ICC: “In this age of global media, today’s verdict will reach warlords and commanders across the world and serves as a strong deterrent.”
What is important is the universality of the message that those who commit the most serious crimes under international law will be punished, that we are working towards establishing the rule of law on national and international level, that we are addressing the urgent need to build solid national institutions to end impunity.
We should not forget that the ultimate goal is to prevent crimes from happening, to end large-scale violence against the most vulnerable. The historic decision of 1998 to establish the ICC should also be viewed in this context.
Ambassador Tiina Intelmann is the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court. She can be followed on Twitter @Tintelmann