The fate of Gambia’s Bensouda: ANC wants South Africa out of ICC

Fatou Bensouda

Fatou Bensouda

The former Gambian justice minister and now the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bon Bensouda,  has once again seen herself on the defensive as South African threatens an ICC exit.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party said Sunday that  it has told President Jacob Zuma’s government to withdraw South Africa’s membership from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

South Africa and the ICC have been at loggerheads since South Africa failed to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during the African Union summit in South Africa last June.  Just last week, the ICC asked South Africa to provide an explanation of why it did not arrest Bashir.

Edna Molewa, head of the International Relations Subcommittee of the ANC’s National Executive Council says the ANC believes the ICC has not served Africa in the same manner it has served other countries. Molewa also said the ANC’s decision is in line with the African Union’s position on the ICC.

“As you know, there has been a continual assessment of the ICC by the entire African Union. So today, the African National Congress took stock of what the AU has been and decided at its general council today to say that government of South Africa we are giving you a mandate, go and review our relationship with the ICC. Why because we do believe the ICC is not actually serving the African continent in a manner in which it serves other countries,” she said.

Molewa said the ANC National Executive Council made its decision long before the ICC asked the South African government to explain why it did not arrest President Bashir. She said the ANC has been contemplating the decision for a long time.

“It’s a matter that has always been pursued right from a time of about two years when the ANC made this decision. It’s just that it’s being implemented now,” Molewa said.

She said the ANC still believes in the founding principles of the ICC, such as prevention of genocide and stopping the violations of human rights. But she said such matters can now be handled by the African Court of Human Rights

She said the ANC is concerned about some “powerful” countries who refuse to be members of the ICC while having unfettered powers to refer other countries to the ICC.

“So if South Africa also said on our own we are deciding to leave you, we believe that that decision must be respected,” Molewa said.

South African government officials had said they could not have arrested President Bashir because the Sudanese leader had immunity as an African head state when he attended the AU summit in South Africa last June.

Mass exit

The exit of South Africa, one of the leading democracies in the continent, from the ICC might mark the start of a mass exit of African countries from the international court.

The ICC has always been criticized by African leaders who accused the court of an unfair focus on only the leaders of the continent, a claim Fatou Bon Bensouda, a former Gambian  justice minister and now ICC prosecutor denies.

Most notable of the critics are Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyata who was earlier indicted by the court and later had his charges dropped and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, the chairman of African Union, has criticized the International Criminal Court (ICC) after Sudan’s president dodged an international arrest order by leaving early from a meeting of the continent’s leaders in South Africa in June this year.

“This is not the headquarters of the ICC; we don’t want it in this region at all,” Mugabe, who is chairing the 54-member African Union for one year, was quoted as saying.

Though the former Gambian public prosecutor and later justice minister flexed her muscles in the defence of the integrity of their job in Africa, many times before, Africans political elites, apparently, are the least impressed with her arguments.

Though most African countries still struggle to establish independent judiciaries that can prosecute powerful people (political elites and influential, rich people), South Africa’s exit might be the start of a mass African exit from ICC.

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