Ask the Africans betrayed by their leaders about the ICC

Namibian President Hage Geingob.

Namibian President Hage Geingob.

African leaders should stop vilifying the International Criminal Court for carrying out a mandate to which they are signatories, halt their attempts to cover up crimes committed by their political counterparts, stop keeping their citizens in the dark about the true role of the ICC, and allow justice to take its course.

Namibian President Hage Geingob said in a speech, prepared for the African Union summit last week but not delivered and later released to the media, that “no institution or country can dictate to Africans, who and by whom they should be governed”.

“The ICC must therefore stay out of Kenya’s domestic affairs. Some people are saying we are the ones who created the ICC. However, when one creates something to be an asset but later on it becomes an abomination, you have right to quit it since it has ceased serving its intended purpose.”

But the purpose of the ICC has not changed.
Its clearly and simply stated mandate has always been to prosecute individuals for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The mechanisms by which it operates have received the support of 123 countries and about half the countries in Africa, including Namibia. At its core is the pursuit of justice, peace and the protection of human lives – African lives included.

How, then, did the ICC become an “abomination”? The Southern African Development Community Tribunal, the African Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, our own regional or continental systems, have not been effective in holding African political leaders accountable for atrocities committed on their citizens using state machinery. Given the unwillingness of political cronies to hold each other to account, the ICC would appear to be the only mechanism by which to seek justice.

Africans have suffered for centuries, first at the hands of slave traders, then those of colonisers. Even as independent countries, African countries have failed to protect their people. Some have died in killings ordered by their leaders.

I am sure the families of those 1 200 people whose lives were extinguished in Kenya don’t feel the same as the Namibian president or the other African leaders who have condemned the ICC. The families and loved ones of the more than 300 000 victims of violence in Sudan under Omar al-Bashir must find a glimmer of hope in knowing there is a court fighting for justice for them and for those who continue to suffer emotional, physical and psychological scars.

The ICC does not just jump on people and summon them to be put on trial without first collecting clear evidence of the crimes committed. Neither does it regard the accused as guilty without having been tried.

I understand why some view the ICC as biased – all its nine official investigations have been in Africa. Preliminary examinations have taken place, or are taking place, in South America, Asia and Europe too.

But these African crimes are not a fabrication of the ICC’s imagination. African leaders who threaten to end their countries’ link to the ICC should consult the African masses whom they lead and whose own national courts often fail them. They should inform their people truthfully of the role of the ICC and the rights it protects before making injudicious pronouncements.

The ICC is not wrong in carrying out its mandate, as some of our leaders would have us believe. I call on our leaders to commit themselves to true justice and to enlighten the African masses on what the ICC is and what it stands for. I call on Geingob, and all the ICC member states, to give the ICC their unwavering and genuine support, so that the court may carry out its mandate uninhibited to “investigate, prosecute and try individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”.

Dr Abisai Shejavali is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia and a former general secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia

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