Don’t go!” That was the heartfelt appeal
to African nations as the International
Criminal Court opened its annual
meeting Wednesday under the cloud of
a wave of unprecedented defections.
Gambia on Monday formally notified the
United Nations that it was withdrawing
from the court, following in the wake of
South Africa and Burundi.
“Don’t go,” pleaded Senegalese politician
Sidiki Kaba, the president of the ICC’s
Assembly of State Parties meeting in The
“In a world criss-crossed by violent
extremism… it is urgent and necessary
to defend the ideal of justice for all,” he
The tribunal opened in 2002 in The
Hague as a court of last resort to try the
world’s worst crimes. But in his
passionate plea, Kaba admitted it was
going through a “difficult moment”.
He acknowledged some had seen
“injustice” in the investigations brought
before the court so far, but he offered
reassurances, saying: “You have been
The court had to redouble its efforts to
convince countries to return, and to
ensure that there was truly universal
justice for all, Kaba said.
Amid accusations of bias against Africa,
Kenya, Namibia and Uganda have also
indicated they are considering pulling
out of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s
“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.
He insisted “there is no substitute for the
ICC” and in the long term “these states
will boomerang back as the court is
accepted by more and more states”.
“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.”
He warned “a new trend of isolationism”
sweeping the world would trigger more
attacks on the court.
“Now is not the time to abandon the
post, now is the time of resolve and
strength,” Zeid said.
“Do not betray the victims, nor your own
people… stand by the court… it is the
best that we have.”
The defections will take a year to come
Currently nine out of the 10 ICC
investigations are in African countries and 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 may have committed war
crimes in Afghanistan.
In her annual report, she said she would
decide “imminently” whether to ask to
launch a full-blown investigation in
If the investigation goes ahead, the
tribunal would be taking on its most
complex and politically controversial
investigation to date.