AU puts ICC in the dock

African civil society is mobilising to counter threats by some African countries to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) next month.

The African Union is now criticising the ICC “openly and loudly”, said Max du Plessis, senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and associate professor of international law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Du Plessis was speaking at a ­workshop convened by the ISS last week in Stellenbosch to consider the work of the ICC in Africa, attended by about 40 representatives of African civil society organisations.

An AU summit to discuss continued membership of the ICC is scheduled for next month in Addis Ababa. Some AU states accuse the court of unfairly targeting African countries, the most recent flashpoint being the issuing of an arrest warrant in March for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. The AU had requested a postponement of the arrest warrant while it pursued diplomatic channels.

Sudan has not ratified the ICC’s founding statute and so has no legal requirement to hand its president over to the court. The Sudanese president has declared that the ICC decision is of “no value” to him.

Du Plessis told the workshop allegations that the ICC is targeting African countries are incorrect. “The ICC is investigating cases in the DRC, Uganda and the Central African Republic because the governments of those three states invited the court to investigate crimes committed in their territories,” he said.

“The ICC is dealing with the crimes in Sudan not because it chose to do so of its own accord, but because the United Nations Security Council decided that it would be in the interests of peace and security if the ICC investigated [these crimes].”

Godfrey Musila, ISS senior researcher, said at the workshop that “we urge state parties to recommit to the court and to take steps that ensure that they can process those cases themselves or work in cooperation with the court”.

China and the Arab League have also criticised the al-Bashir arrest warrant, with China expressing concerns that the ruling will undermine peace in the region.

Arab League member states have agreed to table a resolution at the coming AU summit rejecting the ICC’s warrant.

The Arab League’s stance reflects the position held by some AU members. Libya, Egypt and Eritrea, which are also members of the Arab League, have received al-Bashir since the ICC warrant was issued.

A statement by the civil society organisations at the Stellenbosch workshop is being drafted ahead of the AU summit to “remind state parties of their obligation to ratify the [ICC founding] statute and for the domestication of legislation”, Musila said.

“The ICC has no police, so it relies on states to give effect to its orders.”

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