Backing out of the ICC: Why such a proposal from these African countries is questionable

African leaders at the recently held African Union (AU) Summit, including Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Chad’s General Idriss Déby Itno, made an interesting argument about the seemingly biased manner in which the International Criminal Court (ICC) operates towards African countries. As a result of these reservations, these state leaders have expressed their country’s desire to leave the court. At the summit, it was stated that the ICC lacked an all-encompassing judicial reach and was mainly targeting African countries in fulfilling its set mission.

To this end, President Kenyatta, the front liner for the proposal, urged African leaders to resist being carried along with a course that was detrimental to the “sovereignty, security and dignity of Africans.”

While the argument made by Kenyatta and other affected African states backing his proposal is undeniably well-founded, their request remains dubious, especially when one considers the African countries that are the most vocal about leaving the ICC; Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

The objective of the ICC remains to try only the “gravest crimes” involving crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and only as a final option where national institutions fail. Coincidentally, the aforementioned countries have recorded incidences that fit into the ICC’s job description, both in past and contemporary times. Therefore, the shady profiles of these particular countries makes it difficult to support their proposed line of action.


To start with, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto, faced accusations of inciting post-election violence in 2007, leading to over a thousand deaths, gang-rapes and other vile crimes committed during this period. In 2014, the charges against Kenyatta were dropped and the ICC was accused of being racist.

Republic of Cote d’Ivoire

Former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, and his alleged enforcer, Charles Blé Goudé, are currently on trial for committing four counts of crimes against humanity in 2010/2011. Both pled not guilty to all the charges brought against them when the trial began last Thursday. Their trial is expected to continue for up to four years.


In May of 2015, the ICC announced its plans to begin investigations in Libya following the human rights violations committed by the Islamic State in the Middle Eastern country.


Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the ICC, although Sudan is not a part of the court. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), his counterinsurgency policies which specifically targeted civilians, were in violation of international law.

Central African Republic

In 2007, the ICC launched investigations in the Central African Republic (CAR), following the prevalence of human rights abuses, sexual violence and other crimes against civilians since the politically unstable country gained independence in 1960. Former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and pillaging during the period he was deployed to the CAR.

Allegations of ICC-worthy crimes have also been made in Mali and Uganda, with investigations being held at different times. While the ICC did not bring any charges against former Chadian president, Hissène Habré, the West African country is obviously not left out of the mix of dictatorial and oppressive rulers with a criminal history, as the 72-year-old stood trial in Senegal last year.

Critics are of the opinion that while it is true that the absence of several powerful nations across the globe from the ICC creates a lopsided perspective in viewing the intentions of the court, leaving is certainly not a viable option. Instead, African countries should opt for reforms within the court to make it a better and more reliable one. One-third of the member states of the ICC are African countries that joined voluntarily and out of a need to serve justice where it seemed otherwise unattainable.

Thus, calling a few questionable characters to pull out from the court would leave the citizens of African nations, with limited access to justice, vulnerable.

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