Don’t go, ICC begs defectors

Russia deals new blow to court as more African countries consider pulling out

The heartfelt appeal to African nations yesterday was “Don’t go!” as the International Criminal Court opened its annual meeting under the cloud of an unprecedented wave of defections.

Gambia on Monday formally notified the United Nations it was withdrawing from the court, following in the wake of South Africa and Burundi.

“Don’t go,” the president of the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties meeting in The Hague, Senegalese politician Sidiki Kaba, pleaded.

“In a world criss-crossed by violent extremism . . . it is urgent and necessary to defend the ideal of justice for all.”

Russia dealt the ICC a new blow yesterday when it said it was formally withdrawing its signature from the founding Rome Statute, saying the tribunal had failed to live up to the hopes of the international community.

Russia in 2000 signed the Rome Statute setting up the ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, but never ratified the treaty.

The tribunal opened in 2002 in The Hague as a court of last resort to try the world’s worst crimes.

But in his plea, Kaba acknowledged some had seen injustice in the investigations brought before the court so far, but he gave the reassurance, “you have been heard”.

The court had to redouble its efforts to convince countries to return, and to ensure there was truly universal justice for all, Kaba said.

Amid accusations of bias against Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda have also indicated they might pull out.

“Though the powerful may seek to leave the court, the victims everywhere plead for its involvement,” UN human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

“By withdrawing from the Rome Statute, leaders may shield themselves, but it would be at the cost of depriving their people of a unique form of protection.”

The defections will take a year to come into force. Nine of the 10 current ICC investigations are in African countries.

The other is in Georgia. But on the eve of the meeting, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda revealed there was a reasonable basis to believe US troops as well as the Taliban and Afghan forces might have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Moscow said it was unhappy with the ICC’s treatment of the case on Russia’s short war with neighbouring Georgia in 2008, saying the court had ignored aggression by Tbilisi against civilians in South Ossetia– a pro-Moscow separatist region of Georgia.

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