News that Gambia is leaving the International Criminal Court (ICC) is causing the international community to question the long-term viability of the global court.
The Court, established in 2002 to prosecute the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community” like genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, is now in a total free-fall after the departure of three African states.
Gambia’s announcement on Tuesday follows the departure of two other key African countries: South Africa and Burundi. In their announcement of intention to leave the court, Gambia took a big swing at the ICC calling it the “International Caucasian Court”.
This resonates with much of the major criticism launched at the Court since its inception: that the Court is only concerned with prosecuting Africans.
Nine out of the 10 investigations accepted by the ICC since 2002 have come from Africa. Not a single indictment is lodged against a Western leader, despite cries for investigation of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and vocal demands to prosecute former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the government’s treatment of asylum seekers.
Whilst the departure of Gambia and Burundi, two small African countries, won’t impact the ability of the Court to function to a huge extent, the decision by South Africa to leave could significantly impact the fiscal operation of the Court. Member states make contributions to the Court based on size and income, making South Africa quite integral.
More important than immediate financial concerns is the existential threat the Court faces from a possible domino effect or mass exodus of African nations. This would greatly undermine the Court’s reputation.
The news of Gambia’s departure could not come at a worse time for the ICC, which recently built a brand new building to house the Court, costing member states 204 million Euros.
The Court is no stranger to controversy, most recently coming under fire in 2012 when it handed down its first sentence (after 10 years and 100 billion dollars of member state funding).
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