Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, stated in the Zimbabwe Mail that Zimbabwe rejects the notion of ratifying the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, because he believes that the Court is biased against some regions—Africa in this case—and leaves others untouched. This not a new argument, but it continues to be difficult to understand.
The ICC was established in 2002 with the goal of ending impunity for the worst crimes known to humankind: crimes against humanity war crimes and genocide. African states played a key role in the 1998 Rome Conference which culminated in the adoption of the treaty.
They did not want a repetition of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda or of the other grave crimes committed in Africa and other regions around the world throughout the 20th century. That commitment—shared by the 119 states that so far have joined the Court—to ending impunity wherever it may be is why African states have remained active participants at the ICC.
The 119 ICC state parties include the strong, the weak, the rich, the poor, the big and the small. Each state that has joined is making a commitment to fight against the commission of grave international crimes and to ensure their investigation and prosecution should they occur.
It is true that all of the ICC’s seven current investigations—Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Darfur (Sudan), and Uganda—are taking place in Africa. But it is equally true that some of the worst crimes in the world are being committed on African soil and African victims are calling out for justice whether by the Courts of their land or by the ICC.
By focusing on the perpetrators, is Minister Chinamasa suggesting that Africans who commit these massive crimes should not be punished and that African victims do not merit justice?
If this is his suggestion then it defeats the purpose of Article 4(h) of the constitutive act of the African Union which explicitly rejects impunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide and further defeats the objectives of the African states who met in Rome in 1998 to make that historic contribution to the principle of accountability in establishing the ICC.
It must also be highlighted that the ICC is undertaking preliminary examinations in Colombia, Afghanistan, Georgia, Honduras, Guinea, Nigeria and the Republic of Korea and is analyzing whether it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories. A close assessment of how the ICC came to open its first seven investigations makes it clear that they all came in part through recommendation of states themselves and in part through the recommendation of the UN Security Council.
The OTP used its power to self-initiate an investigation twice: in Kenya and Ivory Coast. Far from being biased against Africa, the Court has shown itself to be on the side of victims of violent conflict in Africa. It is working toward a future in which all parts of the world, Africa included, can thrive with societies based on justice and the rule of law, rather than being mired in conflict and impunity.
The Coalition for the ICC, the organization that we represent, is made of likeminded civil society organizations around the world (800 strong in Africa) who have come together to support the idea that justice can and should be done for grave crimes. We advocate for all states to join the ICC and to keep strong their commitments to justice.
Minister Chinamasa may not support the notion of Zimbabwe joining the growing majority of states in Africa (33 out of 55) and around the world in rejecting the idea of impunity and signing up to the ICC. But we are patient. We look forward to the day when Zimbabwe’s leaders will have changed enough so that they no longer fear justice. Minister Chinamasa, the citizens of Zimbabwe are waiting.
Stephen Lamony is the Situations Adviser &amp; Outreach Liaison for Africa and Brigitte Suhr is the Director of Regional Programs at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a global network of 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 countries advocating for a fair, effective and independent International Criminal Court.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis