This Friday’s meeting is a contest between justice and injustice. Far from a fight between Africa and the West, this is a fight within Africa, for the soul of the continent. May righteous Africans raise their voices and affirm the ICC and the rule of law.
Desmond Tutu: Why Africa should not leave ICC
African leaders behind the move to extract the continent from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court are effectively seeking a licence to kill, maim and oppress their people without consequences. They are saying that African leaders should not allow the interests of the people to get in the way of their personal ambitions. Being held to account interferes with their ability to act with impunity to achieve their objectives. Those who get in their way – their victims – should remain faceless and voiceless.
They are arguing that the golden rule of reciprocity – do unto others as you would have them do to you – should not apply to them. And nor should any legal system.
But they know that they cannot say these things in public, so they say that the ICC is racist.
At first glance, when one tallies the number of African leaders versus European and North American leaders prosecuted by the court, their argument appears as if it might be plausible. When one considers the facts, however, one quickly realises that the number of Africans put on trial is an indictment of leadership and democracy in some African countries, not of the ICC.
Africa has suffered the consequences of unaccountable leaders for too long to allow itself to be hoodwinked in this manner.
When thousands of people are murdered and displaced in any country, one would hope, in the first instance, that that country’s own systems of justice and fairness would kick in to right the wrongs.
But when that country is unwilling or unable to restore justice, who should represent the interests of the victims? Those behind the call to extract Africa from the ICC say: Nobody.
Those accused of crimes proclaim their innocence and vilify the institution as racist and unjust, as Hermann Göring and his comrades vilified the Nuremberg Court that put Nazi leaders on trial following World War II. The eight matters brought before the ICC were without exception initiated by African countries and their leaders. There was no witch-hunt or imposition, the judges and investigators were invited in.
So, while the rhetoric of leaders at the African Union may play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear. Far from being a so-called “White man’s witch hunt”, the ICC could not be more African if it tried. More than 20 African countries helped to found the ICC.
Of the 108 nations that initially joined the ICC, 30 are in Africa. Five of the court’s 18 judges are African, as is the Vice-President of the court. The Chief Prosecutor of the court, who has huge power over which cases are brought forward, is from Africa. The ICC is, quite literally, Africa’s court.
Leaving the ICC would be a tragedy for Africa for three clear reasons.
First, without justice, countries can attack their neighbours or minorities in their own countries with impunity. Two years ago, when the warlord, Thomas Lubunga, was arrested to face charges of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers, the threat of the ICC undermined his support from other militias. In Cote D’Ivoire, since Laurent Gbagbo was taken to face justice in The Hague, the country has been able to rebuild. Without this court, there would be no brake on the worst excesses of these criminals. And these violent leaders continue to plague Africa: The Great Lakes, Mali, northern Nigeria and Egypt all give reason for concern. Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to wriggle free.
Second, without justice there can be no peace. In South Africa, the scars of apartheid are still deep and painful and it has taken a long process of truth and reconciliation for these wounds to begin to heal. In Kenya, the rioting and killing across the Rift Valley will take a long time to resolve. Put simply, where justice and order are not restored, there can be no healing, leaving violence and hatred ticking like a bomb in the corner.
Third, as Africa finds its voice in world affairs, it should be strengthening justice and the rule of law, not undermining them. Everyone has a duty to adhere to these principles; they are part of global collective responsibility, not a menu we can choose from as and when it suits us.
Right now, thousands of people from across the planet are joining a campaign hosted by Avaaz, an international advocacy organisation, calling on Africa’s leaders to stay in the ICC and stand behind international justice and what it means for so many vulnerable citizens everywhere. They represent our global commitment to working together to make the future brighter and safer for the next generations. The alternatives are far too painful: revenge, like what happened in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia; or a blanket amnesty, a national commitment to amnesia like what happened in Chile. The only way any country can deal with its past is to confront it.
We need loud voices in Addis Ababa to deliver the message of the world’s people, to shout down those that want us to do nothing. At the front, we need the heavyweight champions of Africa –Nigeria and South Africa – to exercise their leadership and stop those that don’t like the rules from attempting to re-write them. If Africa’s democracies truly believe in justice and the rule of law, they must stand up against this attempt by their least democratic brothers and sisters to undermine those values.
This Friday’s meeting is a contest between justice and injustice. Far from a fight between Africa and the West, this is a fight within Africa, for the soul of the continent.
May righteous Africans raise their voices and affirm the ICC and the rule of law.
• Desmond Tutu is a former Archbishop of Cape Town. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his contribution to opposing apartheid.