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April 03, 2013

Analyst Questions ICC’s Intense Focus on Africa

by James Butty

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is observing Genocide Awareness month. ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has called on nations to cooperate in pursuing accountability for genocide. 

But American University Professor David Bosco, writing in The Washington Post asked: "Why is the International Criminal Court Picking on Africa?"

Bensouda has denied the court targets only Africans.  She said the court is simply seeking justice for victims of crimes against humanity. 

Bosco, who teaches in the School of International Service, said, over the last decade, the ICC has opened eight investigations, all of them in Africa, with more than two dozen indictees.

"First of all, a number of regions in Africa remain conflict-prone, and so, because the criminal court focuses primarily on situations of armed conflict, those regions have obviously been areas of interest for the court.  Second, a number of African states chose to join the court, which gives the court broad jurisdiction over potential crimes committed on their territory," he said.

Bosco said another explanation why the ICC seems to be targeting Africa is that the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to expand the court’s reach by referring cases, has given the ICC more room to operate in Africa.

Butty interview with Bosco

Bosco said the ICC has not gone into other areas of conflict where it has jurisdiction, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, or Sri Lanka.

“It’s important to note that the court could have opened some other investigations outside of Africa.  For example, the court has jurisdiction in Afghanistan and has not opened an investigation; it has jurisdiction in Colombia; it had jurisdiction in Georgia during the Russian and Georgian conflict," Bosco said.

Bensouda has denied the court has targeted only Africans.  She said the court is simply seeking justice for victims of crimes against humanity. 

But, Bosco said, while the ICC may say it is standing up for victims in Africa, it has not stood up for victims in other conflict areas of the world.

"The question now is, aren’t there also victims in Afghanistan; aren’t there also victims in Colombia, in Georgia, and other places?  And so, yes, she’s [Bensouda] right that the court is standing up for victims, but it’s standing up for victims in Africa and not in other places of the world," Bosco said.

Bosco said the indictments of Kenyan President-Elect Uhuru Kenyatta and his Vice President-Elect, William Ruto, could test Bensouda’s view.

"It remains to be seen whether Mr. Kenyatta will cooperate with the court once the time comes for his trial.  But, I think there is a distinct possibility that he will say that he’s not going to show [up] for his trial for a variety of reasons, and his lawyers have tried to have the case against [him] dismissed," Bosco said.

He said African leaders have taken note in the ICC’s intense interest in Africa, especially since the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2010, which many African leaders thought would hurt the chances for peace in Sudan.

"I think there’s a real debate going on within the African Union and the membership about what the proper course is to take with the ICC.  And, certainly, some voices have suggested that it may be time for Africa to develop its own criminal court which could, in effect, handle the cases of violence without the ICC being involved," he said.

Bosco said the ICC’s focus on Africa may be due in part to the court not wanting to provoke powerful nations.

"It’s not so much that the court is biased against Africa as that it is reluctant to meddle in cases in which the geopolitics are intense," he said.