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African NGOs against African Union’s ICC withdrawal

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A group of African non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and international groups with a presence in Africa are demanding that the African Union (AU) must end its consideration of a call for mass withdrawal of its members from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The call has been made in advance of the AU’s meeting with the United Nations Security Council today.

In a statement that the organisations released in New York yesterday, the organisations said the withdrawal from the ICC is a decision that individual countries have to make and cannot be carried out by the AU.

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The statement also said the AU call for countries to withdraw or consider withdrawal would make it more difficult politically for African countries to show support for the court.

In January this year, the AU decided to mandate its Open-Ended Committee on the ICC to develop a “comprehensive strategy” that includes withdrawal from the ICC.

The committee met on April 11, and identified three conditions that it said should be met for the AU to avoid calling for withdrawal.

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These included a demand for immunity for sitting heads of state and other senior officials from prosecution before the ICC.

Malawi’s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) said the ICC remains the crucial court of last resort.

“The AU should work to strengthen and support the ICC, not urge its members to quit the institution,” Mtambo said.

Stella Ndirangu of the Kenya section of International Commission of Jurists said the AU’s commitment to justice cannot be reconciled with protecting African and other leaders from accountability for mass atrocities before the ICC.

“AU efforts to undermine the only permanent criminal court for victims of atrocities are fundamentally at odds with the AU’s rejection of impunity, and with its decision to make 2016 as the AU’s year of human rights,” Ndirangu said.

The organisations said some African ICC members are taking steps to limit impunity.

At the AU’s summit in Kigali from July 10 to 18, some African countries such as Nigeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Botswana and Algeria pushed back against a potential call by the African Union for a mass exit of African countries from the International Criminal Court.

Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, and Senegal also expressed reservations to the AU decision that was adopted at the summit to continue its consideration of ICC withdrawal.

The work of the Open-Ended Committee on the ICC is the latest development in a backlash against the ICC by some African leaders, focused on charges that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africa.

The backlash first surged in the wake of the 2009 ICC arrest warrant for President Omar al- Bashir of Sudan, on charges of serious crimes committed in Darfur.

It reached a new level of intensity in 2013, when then ICC suspects Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were elected president and deputy president of Kenya, respectively.

Six out of the nine African situations under ICC investigation came about as a result of requests or grants of jurisdictions by African governments–in Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Uganda, and two requests from the Central African Republic.

Some powerful countries including China, Russia, and the United States, all permanent UN Security Council members and their allies have been able to avoid the reach of international justice.

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