The International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating African cases because few other non-African countries are party to the Rome Statute that establishes the court, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders has said.
The minister said 10 out of all the cases now before the court concern African countries “not due to an absence of atrocities elsewhere in the world” but because “African countries refer themselves to the court.”
Koenders disclosed this in a statement Sunday ahead of the meeting of the representatives of all the States Parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute this week at The Hague, Netherlands.
our reporter is one of the 20 media organisations from across the world participating in the event under the Dutch Visitors Programme for Journalists and the ICC.
Three African countries – South Africa, Burundi and Gambia – announced their withdrawal from the court last month, citing anti- African bias. Russia also withdrew last week.
The Dutch foreign minister said their withdrawals were “unexpected, but their criticisms of the court are not new.”
He said data from the United Nations show that the number of war crimes and crimes against humanity has actually increased in recent years.
“We need only look at the outrages committed in Syria, Yemen and North Korea. These crimes seem to go unpunished. That is hard to stomach,” he said.
“But the cause of this inequality is not the ICC itself. The court is independent and impartial, as a court ought to be. And it is carrying out the task it was set up to do, he said.
Koenders said: “The essential problem is that too few countries are party to the Rome Statute. The ICC only has jurisdiction in the 124 States Parties to that statute. As a result, many perpetrators escape justice. A large number of countries, including superpowers and major regional powers, do not participate. This despite the fact that some of them are involved in conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen. Unlike the 34 African countries that participate in the ICC, they are unwilling to facilitate accountability for crimes – or to render account themselves.
“There is a built-in ‘workaround’ for this problem. The UN Security Council can refer a situation to the ICC. This means that the ICC can punish the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, even if the country concerned is not a party to the Rome Statute.
“However, that workaround is not always effective. Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China and the US – are not parties to the Rome Statute. Not only does this mean that the ICC is unable to exercise jurisdiction over them, but those countries can also use their veto to block any referral, thus protecting themselves and others. This means that many potential cases never come before the ICC,” the Dutch chief diplomat said.
He said withdrawal from the ICC is not a solution, urging African countries to “work together with like-minded countries to apply pressure to the United States, Russia and China to become parties to the Rome Statute.”
“If you think that the ICC is disproportionately targeting Africa, urge every country in the world to sign up to the Rome Statute. Make it a priority of your foreign policy and negotiations,” Koenders said.