All’s wrong that starts wrong – withdrawals from the International Criminal Court

The Hague-based International Criminal Court, the world’s first temporary judicial forum, created in 1998 by the adoption of the Rome Statute, has been living difficult times during the past months. After years of struggle since its operations have started in 2002, the second half of 2016 has brought withdrawals, threats for withdrawals, and even a visibly collective strategy for a mass withdrawal of African states from the system. What keeps states in a similar structure, what makes them seriously consider a withdrawal, and what is the possible future of the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

Africa and the ICC

The political struggle between the ICC and some of the African states has been raging for years, with hostile statements, denunciations and from various African leaders. The African Union has not surprisingly become a political actor in this: already in January 2016, it has aimed to create a strategy for a „collective withdrawal” from the ICC, while the process of creating its African „substitute” has started to become more and more real.

Then the situation has seemingly got even more serious. First Burundi, then South Africa have announced their withdrawal from the ICC, repeating claims that the Court is biased towards African states, while Gambia has made a complete turn, first withdrawing, then after domestic political changes, reversing its withdrawal. Additionally, a bit more exact was the reasoning of South Africa in 2015, first announcing its consideration of leaving the Statute, complaining about the criticism it had to encounter for not arresting Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, wanted by the ICC for genocide among other crimes. (Sudan is not a party to the Statute, the Court has jurisdiction based on a resolution by the UN Security Council). As a matter of fact, as a state party to the Rome Statute, South Africa is under the obligation to arrest anyone wanted by the Court.

Read the full reflection here!