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The Gambia has become the latest African nation to announce its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, accusing the war crimes tribunal of persecuting Africans. The move by the poor West African nation follows similar decisions this month by South Africa and Burundi to abandon the troubled institution, set up to try the world’s worst crimes.
Banjul’s announcement late Tuesday will be a personal blow to The Hague-based tribunal’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer and former justice minister. Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said on state television that the ICC had been used “for the persecution of Africans and especially their leaders” while ignoring crimes committed by the West.
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He singled out the case of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who the court decided not to indict over the Iraq war. “There are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted.”
“The ICC, despite being called International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”. The ICC, set up in 2002, is often accused of bias against Africa and has also struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the United States, which has signed the court’s treaty but never ratified it.
The Gambia has been trying without success to use the court to punish the European Union for deaths of thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores.
– ‘Chaos is coming’ –
The announcement comes just weeks before a December 1 presidential election in The Gambia, which has been ruled by Yahya Jammeh since he took power in a 1994 coup. Rights groups accuse Jammeh, who is seeking a fifth term, of having created a climate of fear and of having quashed any dissent against his regime.
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South Africa’s announcement on Friday followed a dispute last year when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country despite being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant for alleged war crimes including genocide. The ICC has appealed to both South Africa and Burundi to reconsider.
“I urge them to work together with other States in the fight against impunity, which often causes massive violations of human rights,” Sidiki Kaba, president of the assembly of state parties to the ICC’s founding treaty, said in a statement Monday. Kaba had said he was concerned that South Africa and Burundi’s decisions would pave the way for other African states to leave the court, a possibility also raised by Kenya and Namibia.
The tribunal was set up in 2002 and is tasked with “prosecuting the most serious crimes that shock the conscience of humanity, namely genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression”. Former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo accused Burundi and South Africa of giving leaders on the continent a free hand “to commit genocide”.
“Burundi is leaving the ICC to keep committing crimes against humanity and possible genocide in its territory. Burundi’s president wants free hands to attack civilians,” he said. He added that former South African president Nelson Mandela had “promoted the establishment of the court to avoid new massive crimes in Africa”.
“Now under the Zuma leadership South Africa decided to cover up the crimes and abandoned African victims. The world is going backward,” he said, referring to current President Jacob Zuma. “The chaos is coming. Genocide in Burundi and a new African war are in motion.”
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