Dakar | The Gambia has become the latest African nation to announce its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, accusing the war crimes tribunal of “persecuting” Africans.
The shock move announced late yesterday was condemned by rights groups as a “drastic blow” for victims of serious crimes across the world.
Banjul’s decision follows similar action by South Africa and Burundi this month that have shaken the only permanent international war crimes court.
Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang charged that the ICC had been used “for the persecution of Africans and especially their leaders” while ignoring crimes committed by the West.
“Not a single Western war criminal has been indicted,” he said on state television, naming former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as one who should have faced prosecution in the court.
“The ICC, despite being called International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans,” he said.
The Hague-based court, set up in 2002, is often accused of bias against Africa and has struggled with a lack of cooperation, including from the United States, which has signed the court’s treaty but never ratified it.
Banjul’s announcement will be a personal blow to the tribunal’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer and former justice minister.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said the body had not received any official communication from either The Gambia or Burundi but added that Ban would “very much regret it” if they left.
“The ICC is a key component of the international justice system,” he said.
“There is obviously a debate going on about the functioning of the ICC but those concerns should be raised within the assembly of state parties before taking any drastic action like leaving the ICC.”
Human Rights Watch said The Gambia’s withdrawal “is perhaps not surprising,” accusing its government of having a “long track record of abuse, including torturing and forcibly disappearing political opponents and journalists”.
Babatunde Olugboji, HRW’s deputy programme director, said the move “risks being a real loss for victims. Withdrawal from the ICC would block a crucial path to justice when national courts fail to act.”
Amnesty International said the move would deal a “drastic blow” to victims all over the world.
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