6 February 2016

Africa: At Last, Victory! Africa to Leave ICC! Hooray!

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A tweet from the Twitter handle #PresidentoftheRepublicofKenya boldly confirmed that the African Union's January Heads of State Summit ended with a resolution that the AU would develop a roadmap to begin withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.

The Jubilants on Twitter were triumphant.

Everybody else was either concerned or perplexed. The concern evidenced by, for example, an editorial in Daily Nation noting that withdrawal in lieu of a working alternative would be reprehensible. The confusion evidenced by all who'd been present at the summit who could recall nothing of that nature having even been proposed.

As it turns out, the tweet slightly... shall we say... overstated the case.

Matters relating to the AU/ICC relationship fall under and are reported by the Commission on the Implementation of Decisions of the ICC. The commission had submitted, as usual, a report for the summit's consideration that included updates on the activities of the Open-Ended Committee of Foreign Ministers tasked with all the lobbying in capitals around African positions on the ICC; the committee's meetings with the United Nations Security Council, various member states and regional groupings, and so on.

Accompanying the report were draft resolutions. Nothing terribly earth-shattering. Reiteration of the summit's previous decision that the AU push for deferral by the UNSC of the cases against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the Kenyan vice-president on security grounds. A new comment on the supposed lack of "wisdom" of the pursuit of the case against the latter. A decision that the committee be expanded and continue to meet with the UNSC. And finally, a call for all AU member states to sign onto and ratify the amendment to the Protocol establishing the African Court that gave it criminal jurisdiction.

That was it. Not even a whiff of withdrawal from the ICC. On the contrary, more engagement to resolve the issues that the AU states are upset about.

What the Kenyans seems to have done is moved a last-minute recommendation from the floor of the summit for the Open-Ended Committee to also consider a roadmap for withdrawal. There was no vote to that effect. Neither was there a resolution.

Ah, said all those who'd been perplexed by the tweet and the media pick-up that followed. As stated above, a slight... shall we say ... overstatement of the case.

If there ever were an AU resolution that all its member states who are also signatory to the Rome Statute should withdraw from it, it would not be that easy to do at the national level. Domesticating laws, associated policies and institutions would also have to be undone. Domestically, the appetite for justice for international crimes is high.

Indeed, the gallery being played to was not really in Addis Ababa. It was here. Specifically in the Rift Valley. It was a signal that the executive is still doing for the vice-president what it did for the president. It was a signal of continued Jubilant solidarity. No more. No less.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International's regional director for East Africa, covering East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

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