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International Criminal Court Fears Exodus of African States

  • Henry Ridgwell

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has been rocked by a series of withdrawals by African countries that were original signatories to the Rome Statute that established the court.

This week, Russia also pulled its signature from the ICC treaty, and the Philippines could follow.

Three African states — Burundi, South Africa and Gambia — signaled their intention to quit the court this year, claiming it disproportionately targets African leaders.

"There's a real concern right across Africa about the meddling of international actors in African affairs," said Phil Clark, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin removed his country's signature from the founding treaty this week, though it had never ratified its membership.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 27, 2016.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 27, 2016.

His Philippine counterpart, President Rodrigo Duterte, said Thursday that he might follow Moscow's lead, claiming that "only the small ones like us are battered."

However, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda defended the court's actions.

"As an international community, we should be more concerned about ensuring accountability and justice for these very serious atrocity crimes," Bensouda said this week.

While some African countries plan to quit, others have engaged more directly with the ICC.

"Countries like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have, in fact, seen the ICC as a tool that they can use against their military and political opponents,” said analyst Phil Clark. “Nigeria is also engaging in discussions with the ICC prosecutor at the moment about potentially opening investigations into crimes committed by Boko Haram."

FILE - Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria.

FILE - Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria.

The ICC is opening its first major investigations outside Africa — looking into potential war crimes in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, as well as torture allegations against U.S. and British forces in Afghanistan.

"Those I think are very important cases,” Clark said, “because it would enable the court to say, ‘Look we're not just picking on African states. We're also willing to tackle the biggest powers in the world.’"

But as the United States is not a signatory to the court, any successful prosecution appears unlikely.

And analysts say the series of member state withdrawals raises the prospect the ICC will no longer be seen as an institution of global justice.

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