African Union’s Resolution For ICC Withdrawal Reveals Divisions Over Impunity

African Union’s Resolution For ICC Withdrawal Reveals Divisions Over Impunity

The African Union has called for mass withdrawal of member countries from the Hague-based International Criminal Court in a non-binding resolution that reveals divisions in the organization, BBC reported.

Thirty-four African countries are among the 123 that signed on to the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC in 2002. Its goal? To prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The U.S. did not sign up.

Nigeria and Senegal oppose an ICC withdrawal. South Africa, Gambia and Burundi said in 2016 they would withdraw, accusing the ICC of unfairly targeting Africans and undermining their sovereignty.

The ICC insists it is pursuing justice for African victims of war crimes. Only Africans have ever been charged by the court, including the presidents of Sudan and Kenya.

“The leaders of A.U. member states endorsed the strategy of collective withdrawal, with reservations,” an unnamed A.U. official told Reuters.

A document drawn up before the summit proposed that unless the ICC undergoes reforms, African countries make a coordinated withdrawal. The document referred to proposals for an alternate regional African war crimes court, Reuters reported.

Almost a third of ICC members are African. A mass withdrawal by a large number of them would cripple a court that has not yet made good on its promise to ensure perpetrators of genocide and war crimes are punished.

The African Union made the resolution Tuesday in a private meeting after a divisive debate at its annual summit of heads of state in Addis Ababa.

Part of the resolution said the African Union would hold talks with the U.N. Security Council to push for ICC reforms.

The African Union has been divided on whether to adopt the plan as a collective measure or individual measure, according to AP. The plan has no timeline and “few concrete recommendations for action,” according to Elise Keppler, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program, Newsweek reported

This is a huge announcement that shows how frustrated the A.U. is with the ICC, said analyst by Emmanuel Igunza in a BBC report.

Some member countries would have liked the non-binding resolution to be stronger. It only calls on countries to consider how to implement the decision but does not bind them to it.

“It’s a victory for human rights activists who insist the court still has a very important role to play in the continent where many countries have weak judicial systems,” Igunza said.

“The resolution also calls for African countries to continue pushing for reforms of the court – another clear indication that ditching the court en masse isn’t such a popular decision.”

South Africa and Kenya will “be disappointed that the discussions about completely severing ties with the ICC will have to wait another six months for the next summit.”

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir attended the summit. The ICC has a warrant out for his arrest on charges of genocide in Darfur. South African President Jacob Zuma was criticized in 2015 for failing to arrest Bashir while he was in South Africa for an A.U. meeting.

The South African government said later it was withdrawing from the ICC because it did not want to execute arrest warrants which would lead to regime change.

Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh started withdrawing his country from the ICC in 2016. New Gambian President Adama Barrow, who was inaugurated in January, told Newsweek in December 2016 that he would reverse Jammeh’s decision.