Africa welcomed the International Criminal Court (ICC) with enthusiasm. Numerically, 33 out of the 121 State Parties as at June 2012 were from the continent and this constituted the “largest regional grouping among ICC member states”. The warm reception saw countries like Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Central African Republic self-refer cases to the ICC largely because of their domestic inabilities to prosecute the reported crimes. This demonstrated the continent’s faith in the ICC as an institution to punish the gross international crimes committed in their jurisdictions.
However, decades later, the honeymoon is visibly over and the initial positive attitude from Africa has waned. Largely, this is because the Court’s reported obsession with the Continent. Currently, out of twelve cases under investigation by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), ten situations are from Africa. At the same time, two other African countries–Nigeria and Guinea are under Preliminary Examination. Because of this, the ICC has been heavily criticised in Africa for its preoccupation with the continent and reluctance to investigate deserving conflicts in other parts of the world like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan et cetera. It has been accused of “bias, selectivity, politicisation, and disregard for African views on how best to promote peace and justice on the continent.”
To prove their displeasure, some African leaders have used uncharitable diction against the ICC. In Gambia, the acronym ICC was referred to as “International Caucasian Court” in an apparent inference to the Court’s “persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans”. Uganda’s President has described it as “(a) bunch of useless people” while his Rwandan counterpart labelled the Court as “politics disguised as international justice.”
This notwithstanding, some scholars dispute the notion that the ICC is biased and acknowledge that whereas the criticism is logical, it is to some degree, deceptive. They opine that because of frequent conflicts and insufficient domestic systems, Africa was inherently bound to be regular and “repeat customers” of the ICC. The bias allegations can also be contested by the fact that the initial cases from the African continent were not instigated by the OTP. The situations in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Gabon were self-referred by the respective countries while the situations in Darfur and Libya were referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council. The OTP’s role, it can be argued, was simply to comply with the requirements of the Statute i.e. commence investigations.
Nonetheless, the ICC’s apparent failure to actively assert its authority beyond the confines of Africa hence attracting the wrath of some of the continent’s leaders diminishes its influence and legitimacy. As the continent’s political bloc –African Union (AU) — seemingly provides a platform for the ICC’s critics, this lends credence to the contention that the ICC is an institution in crisis which has struggled to assert its mandate outside the continent.