U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday shelled the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that will embolden African leaders who have previously questioned its legitimacy.
The court, established in 2002 in The Hague in the Netherlands, has the power to prosecute individuals for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
But African leaders including President Museveni and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta believe the ICC is an extension of neo-colonialism.
Museveni described ICC as a “biased instrument of post-colonial hegemony” and “a useless body.”
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Trump said for failing to carry out reforms, “the United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. “
He said as far as America was concerned, “the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.”
Trump said the ICC “claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”
He emphasised that, “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”
Recently, Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, said ICC is “dead to us” and further labeled the court “illegitimate”.
The Trump administration’s criticism will most likely embolden African leaders to discredit its legitimacy.
Already, the court is under heavy attack for selective prosecution as most of those on trial are from Africa.
The proceedings against two acting African presidents, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, for whom the ICC issued an arrest warrant, and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, led to fierce appeals against the ICC: Critics of the Court argued that the ICC selectively applied international criminal law, it discriminated against Africans and violated the immunity of African heads of states – to name just a few examples.
These confrontations culminated in the notices of withdrawal from three African countries: Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia.
On 26 October 2017, Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute – the founding treaty of the ICC – took effect.
Although there are some preliminary investigations outside Africa, 10 of 11 situations under investigation (situations in the trial phase) are carried out in African countries.
Antonio Arcudi, a Research Associate in the International Institutions Department at PRIF, says to take the air out of the perception of an African bias, “it is crucial that the ICC investigates core crimes in other regions of the world -there are prosecutable crimes elsewhere.”
The investigation in Georgia has been the right signal.
Moreover, the preliminary investigation of the situation in Afghanistan, which could lead to the prosecution of crimes committed by US soldiers, is important in that regard.
However, both are difficult investigations for the ICC as neither the US nor Russia are States Parties to the Rome Statute.
“Thus, the Court needs diplomatic support to expand its investigations,” said Antonio.
The US never ratified the Rome Statute that established the court and George W Bush, in the early days of the still-ongoing war in Afghanistan, never ratified it.
The African Union in 2014 voted to grant sitting leaders and senior officials immunity from prosecution by international courts.