African nation says ICC persecuting “people of colour” but ex-prosecutor says continent’s leaders covering up crimes.
Gambia has announced its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, accusing the Hague-based tribunal of “persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after similar decisions earlier this month by South Africa and Burundi to abandon the institution, set up to try the world’s worst crimes.
The ICC was set up in 2002 and is often accused of bias against Africa and has also struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the US, which has signed the court’s treaty but never ratified it.
The court had been used “for the persecution of Africans and especially their leaders” while ignoring crimes committed by the West, Sheriff Bojang, Gambia’s information minister, said on state television.
He singled out the case of Tony Blair, former British prime minister, who the ICC decided not to indict over the Iraq war.
“There are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted,” Bojang said.
The withdrawal, he said, “is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.
Gambia has been trying, without success, to use the ICC to punish the EU for the deaths of thousands of African refugees and migrants trying to reach its shores.
The decision will also come as a personal blow to the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, a former Gambian justice minister.
Burundi had said earlier this month it would leave the court, while Namibia and Kenya have also raised the possibility.
Over the weekend, the ICC asked South Africa and Burundi to reconsider their decisions, which came as a major blow to the institution.
“I urge them to work together with other states in the fight against impunity, which often causes massive violations of human rights,” Sidiki Kaba, president of the assembly of state parties to the ICC founding treaty, said in a statement.
Alleged war crimes
South Africa’s decision followed a dispute last year when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country despite being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant over alleged war crimes.
Kaba said he was concerned that South Africa and Burundi’s decisions would pave the way for other African states to leave the court.
The tribunal is entrusted with “prosecuting the most serious crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, namely genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression”.
Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former ICC chief prosecutor, criticised Burundi and South Africa, accusing them of giving leaders on the continent a free hand “to commit genocide”.
“Burundi is leaving the ICC to keep committing crimes against humanity and possible genocide in its territory. Burundi’s president wants free hands to attack civilians,” he said.
He said Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, had “promoted the establishment of the Court to avoid new massive crimes in Africa. Now under the [Jacob] Zuma leadership, South Africa decided to cover up the crimes and abandoned African victims. The world is going backward.
“The chaos is coming. Genocide in Burundi and a new African war are in motion.”