United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed regret on Friday that South Africa, Burundi and The Gambia want to leave the International Criminal Court and said it could “send a wrong message on these countries’ commitment to justice.”
The International Criminal Court, which opened in July 2002 and has 124 member states, is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
South Africa and Burundi have officially notified the United Nations of their intent to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty establishing The Hague-based court, which will take effect in October 2017.
Gambia said this week that it also plans to withdraw from the court, but it has not yet notified the United Nations.
Ban acknowledged the concerns of some countries which have accused the court of being too focused on Africa.
“These challenges are best addressed not by diminishing support for the Court, but by strengthening it from within,” Ban told a U.N. Security Council meeting on cooperation between the world body and regional groups.
“Deterring future atrocities, delivering justice for victims, and defending the rules of war across the globe are far too important priorities to risk a retreat from the age of accountability that we have worked so hard to build and solidify,” said Ban, who steps down at the end of this year.
The withdrawal of South Africa, The Gambia and Burundi from the court are likely to embolden other African countries to leave.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has described decisions by the three African countries to withdraw as a “setback”, as she vowed that the tribunal will continue its work on the continent.
“You could expect a setback as the ICC started to make more progress,” Bensouda who is a Gambian told the NRC daily paper in an interview, published on Saturday.
But “I don’t believe we should feel defeated and that the ICC is going to close up tomorrow,” said Bensouda, in her first reaction to the shock announcements by Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia to leave the Hague-based court.