THE Russian Federation recently became the latest signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to opt out the world’s only mechanism for the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and gross violations of human rights. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order instructing the Foreign Ministry to remove Russia’s signature from the ICC’s founding documents.
This marks a total break, for, although Russia did sign the Rome Statute in the year 2000, it never ratified the treaty. But insisting on the removal of its signature is a demonstration of Russia’s extreme displeasure with the pronouncement of the ICC on the issue of Crimea and Russia’s relations with Ukraine. The ICC’s report published recently had made a determination that the annexation of Crimea is an occupation, and that an international military conflict situation exists between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The ICC is thus saying it loud and clear that Russia is in violation of international law by its occupation of Crimea.
The ICC’s report is the result of its investigations since 2014 which sharply contradicts the Russian narrative on the conflict. The Russians have insisted that Crimea had held a referendum and had without Russian prodding opted to join the Russian Federation on its own volition. The ICC report, however, sounds more credible and is in line with the resolution of the UN General Assembly, the European Union and the United States which had imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea. We believe that the ICC’s position is the right one, and must be supported by all peace-loving citizens of the world.
Might is not always right, and although no country would wish to risk war with Russia over Crimea, the principle must be affirmed and maintained that nations should not seize the territories of other weaker nations by force as the Russians have done using their proxies in Ukraine.
We regret to observe that three African countries – South Africa, Burundi and the Gambia – have also headed for the exits from the ICC. But the world still remembers the hard work of great men like Nelson Mandela who laboured to set up the ICC to ensure that humanity is freed from the impunity of dictators, autocrats, and fascists who utilise state power to torment their citizens, torture political opponents, terrorize groups, and prop up themselves in power over and against the will of their tyrannized peoples. Unfortunately, Africa is filled with such leaders.
The hypocrisy of the South African government was truly breath-taking when in a letter to the UN titled “Instrument of Withdrawal” it stated that it was leaving the ICC because being part of ICC was “incompatible” with its efforts to mediate peace in Africa. It underscores the nature of President Jacob Zuma’s administration, its lack of transparency, absence of any semblance of accountability, and the abandonment of human rights.
In the Gambia, “forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights violations continue under the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup in 1994. Gambian authorities routinely target voices of dissent, including journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and critics,…Two UN special rapporteurs, who in 2014 gained access to the country for the first time, concluded that “torture is a consistent practice” by authorities and “avoiding arrest is a necessary preoccupation” for ordinary Gambians.
In April, the ICC’s chief prosecutor announced a preliminary investigation into the situation in Burundi where hundreds of people have died in violent street protests and political killings are rampant because President Pierre Nkurunziza insists on securing and running a third term of office contrary to the prescriptions of the country’s constitution.
Countries quitting the ICC are distinguished for their lack of respect for the rule of law. They merit their place as despicable regimes and leaving the ICC says more about them than it says of the ICC.
Besides, the ICC should critically examine why some member-countries are quitting the organisation in recent times. It should also look into the concerns of some African nations that the ICC moves swiftly to try leaders in Africa adjudged to have cases of human rights violations more than in other continents of the world. No doubt, the world needs an unbiased ICC to rein in the dictators and human rights abusers. But for it to perform this function effectively, it must be seen to be impartial. It must try dictators and human rights abusers in any part of the world.
So far, 39 individuals (all Africans) have been indicted in the ICC, including Ugandan rebel leader, Joseph Kony, Sudanese Omar al-Bashir and others.