President Robert Mugabe is likely to face stiff resistance from other countries at an African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, later this week in the wake of his call for the continent to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing it of bias.
By Phyllis Mbanje
African governments are meeting for the 25th summit of the AU, from June 7 to 15 in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Mugabe, who is the AU rotating chair for 2015, threatened in January this year to push for African ICC members to withdraw from the court at the June summit.
However, in the days leading up to the summit, Malawian officials told reporters that it would not consider withdrawal. Botswana too has consistently stressed its support for the ICC when the court has come under attack at the AU.
“As the AU summit unfolds this week in Johannesburg, it’s an open question as to whether the Zimbabwean President will continue to forge ahead on his call. Malawi took an important stand last week against withdrawal and more states should do the same,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior Press officer in South Africa, Birgit Schwarz, said.
Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which set up the ICC in 2002 as the government did not want to subject itself to external scrutiny amid allegations of impunity in the face of serious crimes being committed in the country.
Mugabe has been pushing African ICC member states to pull out of the organisation.
He has some symphatisers who accuse the ICC of having an agenda against the continent as everyone who has ever appeared at the court in The Hague has been African.
However, many feel it was critical in addressing gross cases of human injustice and victims of serious crimes may feel betrayed when their governments do not take steps to remedy the harm done to them
“More states should follow Malawi’s recent move to publicly oppose calls for ICC withdrawal and Botswana’s strong public backing of the ICC,” said Timothy Mtambo of Malawi’s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.
“The ICC is a crucial court that should be supported and strengthened.”
While the majority of AU members are also members of the ICC, most of those countries lack domestic laws that fully incorporate the crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and co-operation with the ICC, as key pillars of justice..
In a statement, the HRW said African and international organisations had written a letter to the African International Criminal Court saying that governments should provide leadership to build on important steps during 2015 to ensure justice for grave international crimes.
The groups that signed the letter are among the most active partners of an informal group of African and international organisations based in more than a dozen African countries that seek to promote justice for serious crimes that violate international law.