International human rights organisation FIDH has lauded the decision by South Africa and Gambia to remain in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On February 22 the South African High Court declared the South African presidential decision to withdraw from the ICC’s Rome Statute unconstitutional and led President Jacob Zuma to revoke the notice of withdrawal, the FIDH said in a statement.
This move followed the announcement on February 17 by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres confirming that Gambia decided to reverse its withdrawal from the statute of the ICC and to consider itself as a state party.
“Our organisations applaud this prevalence of the rule of law and this move made by the newly elected president of the Gambia Adama Barrow and by South African President Zuma to strengthen their commitment to human rights and ending impunity. We encourage all states parties to the Rome Statute to continue to support the court and victims of international crimes.
“The decisions of Gambia to re-engage with the international community and commit to their own population and to their obligations as ICC state parties show that the repeated threat of mass departures from the ICC, reiterated during the last AU [African Union] summit of January, has no consensus or basis. It reinforces the message of support of numerous African states towards the ICC,” FIDH vice president Sheila Nabachwa said.
Under the previous presidency, on November 8, 2016, Gambia decided to withdraw from the ICC statute in accordance with article 127 of the Rome Statute. The withdrawal only takes effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification by the UN secretary general. During that time, the decision to withdraw can be reversed without having to go through the entire ratification process again.
“Our organisations also welcome the South African High Court decision of 22 February recognising that the South African executive decision to withdraw from the ICC statute without any parliamentary approval is unconstitutional and invalid. President Zuma together with the ministers of justice and correctional services and international relations and co-operation were ordered to revoke the notice of withdrawal.
“These decisions have even more isolated Burundi that had made similar declarations of withdrawal from the ICC statute in October 2016 for internal political reasons, frustrating opportunities for accountability and effectiveness of victims’ rights to see justice being done for the grave crimes they have suffered. We encourage those states to join Gambia’s path and remain in the ICC.”
The Gambia and South African decisions also confirmed that the announced massive African withdrawal from the ICC was above all rhetoric. Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Zambia were among those that had reaffirmed their support for the ICC. Together with Liberia and Cape Verde, many of those countries also pushed back against adoption of a so-called “ICC withdrawal strategy” at the last AU summit in January, the FIDH statement said.
“To be really effective and contribute to the fight against impunity for international crimes all over the world, the ICC has also to adapt to make its work more universal. The serious challenges the ICC is confronted with are all the more reasons for states to work together and co-operate as active members with the court to take necessary reforms to make the court truly universal,” FIDH vice president Arnold Tsunga said.
If the ICC had opened investigations in African countries during its first years of existence, it was in part because African states themselves overwhelmingly supported the creation of the ICC since 1998 by ratifying the Rome Statute and took a global leadership role in advancing the movement for accountability.
Many African states had referred their own cases to the ICC to investigate the most serious crimes committed on their soil. Furthermore, in 2016 the ICC had opened an investigation into the situation in Georgia and at this moment six out of the ten situations under preliminary examination concerned situations outside of Africa – Afghanistan, Colombia, Comoros/Greece/Cambodia, Palestine, UK/Iraq, Ukraine, the statement said.