Over the past two weeks, three African countries have said they will leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal. The latest is Gambia.
Gambia’s information minister, Sheriff Bojang stated: “This action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.” ICC critics in Africa point out that all but one of the 10 investigations undertaken by the Hague-based court have focused on African leaders.
Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh has asked the ICC to investigate the European Union over the deaths of thousands of African migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Gambia, where youth unemployment is almost 40%, has lost entire villages to migration, mostly to Europe as well as China.
Last week, South Africa said it would quit the ICC, following Burundi, which voted to leave the court on Oct. 12, five months after the ICC announced a preliminary investigation into human rights abuses in the country. Kenya, whose president and deputy president were put on trial over post electoral violence in 2007 and 2008, is also debating a departure. Members of the African Union supported calls to leave the ICC at a summit in July.
Gambia’s announcement, like Burundi’s, does not represent the same threat to the court as the departure of South Africa. But a mass exit by African countries may hobble the ICC. African countries account for 34 of the 124 countries that have signed the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute established the international tribunal in 2002.
Leaving the court is not immediate. A country must first submit a letter to the United Nations general secretary; withdrawal takes effect about a year later.