Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the ICC biased?


The Christian Science Monitor posted an interesting story regarding the Annual Meeting of the International Bar Association which is currently going on this week in Madrid.  It raises the growing discontent of African states towards the International Criminal Court.

At present, all four of the active situations being prosecuted by the court concern African conflicts: Northern Uganda, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and The Central African Republic.  It is expected that Kenya will soon join that list for the post-election violence that took place in 2007 after that country’s failure to establish local tribunals to prosecute the perpetrators.

Traditionally, the African Union has been a strong supporter of the ICC with over half of its 52 members as signatories to the Rome Statute. But that support for international justice appears to be waning in light of growing fears of anti-African bias amongst the international justice system.  And from Northern Uganda to Darfur, there is also the growing sentiment that such legal escapades present an obstacle to peace.

Yet the situation may not be as bad as some are suggesting.  Despite increasing reservations about international justice, most African countries continue to abide by their responsibilities under the Rome Statute, of course with some high profile exceptions.  And earlier today, a top suspect wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide was arrested in Uganda and turned over to the ICTR.

So, things may not be as bad as some would have you believe, but if the ICC continues focusing solely on Africa it is only a matter of time before these cynics have their day.  Of course, there are several different elements that go into determining whether a situation is investigated by the ICC and whether indictments are ultimately issued, leaving the idea of anti-African bias up for debate.  However, the point that many Africans are raising was nicely summed up by the Prosecutor General of Rwanda, Martin Ngogo: “There is not a single case at the ICC that does not deserve to be there. But there are many cases that belong there, that aren’t there.”

And Africa is waiting for the day when the ICC notices that too.



Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa