Democracy is Africa’s Problem not ICC – Legal Practitioners

L-R Makerere University don Dr. Kakungulu Mayambala, human rights lawyer Nicolas Opio, Dr. Daniel Ruhweza and international law don Dr. Phillip Kasaija during a discussion at Kampala Serena Hotel on Friday

Legal scholars and practitioners have criticized African states for ‘posturing’ to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) instead of building strong criminal justice systems.

They argued that some heads of state have failed the test of democracy and resorted to witch hunting the ICC which they perceive as a threat to their power.

Africa constitutes majority of the parties to the Rome Statute which established the Hague based court with 34 countries in Africa as signatories.

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However, mind some of these including South Africa, nurse Burundi, hospital Kenya and Gambia have recently threatened to withdraw their membership of the ICC. This defiance stems from the indictment in 2009 of Sudanese leader Omar-el-Bashir, the first sitting President to be indicted by ICC.

Several heads of state on the continent saw this as threat to their sovereignty and power, consequently they have refused to cooperate with ICC to have Bashir arrested.

In a public discussion on Africa and the ICC held at Serena Hotel on Friday, Dr. Kakungulu Mayambala, a scholar at Makerere University blamed this state defiance to ICC to absence of internal institutions to hold sitting Presidents accountable.

“Most African countries don’t have term limits for Presidency and their constitutions don’t allow for a sitting President to be tried in court. That’s why we need ICC,” Dr. Mayambala said.

Human rights lawyer Nicolas Opio also defended the relevance of the ICC which he said has provided justice to many ordinary victims when states couldn’t.

“African leaders are wrongly addressing their concerns. They should be asking themselves whether African systems have the capacity to try perpetrators of war crimes.”

“The question of Africa’s democracy is paramount. If you observe critically, all the leaders that are critical of ICC have something in common,” Opio said.

Mayambala and Opio both opined that the fact that justice has been served to some victims in Africa should outweigh the debate on whether ICC partially prosecutes African cases.

They accuse the same leaders of double standards – running to ICC when they are the victims but criticizing the same ICC when it seeks to investigate their actions.

Friday’s discussion also questioned the capacity of Africa to solve its problems when many countries have declined to be party to the Arusha based African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

“When we attempted through Parliament to domesticate the Rome Statute in its entirety including the sections that override the immunity of a sitting President, government ensured those sections were finally excluded,” Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago told participants.

However, others with divergent views, among them Supreme Court Justice Eldard Mwanguhya said Africa’s relationship with ICC is too tainted for redemption.

“The focus should be on strengthening our local justice mechanisms, after all ICC’s role is just complementary,” he said.

Uganda hasn’t expressed its interest to leave the ICC but President Museveni has at several occasions openly castigated the court for targeting African leaders it does not like.

Currently, all the cases before the ICC are from the African continent.


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