The ICC’s Dilemma: Balancing Justice and Perceived Bias in Africa

The ICC has several times turned a blind eye to cases in other regions but highlighted cases in African countries.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded with the intention of conducting investigations and imposing sanctions on the most heinous offenses committed on a worldwide scale, ranging from genocide to crimes against humanity, with the ultimate objective of creating global peace. Investigations are now being conducted by the court into a total of 31 cases, all of which are located in Africa. However, who would have believed that the number of cases that the International Criminal Court (ICC) handles has become a boomerang?

Receiving biased accusations and targeting only African leaders. The ICC has several times turned a blind eye to cases in other regions but highlighted cases in African countries. As a result, the perception of unfair targeting has been addressed by a court designed to challenge Africa and only Africans. Burundi, the first African country to withdraw from the ICC, left an impression of accusation by saying, “The ICC has shown itself to be a political instrument and weapon used by the west to enslave” (Willy Nyamitwe).

In the past, Western countries had significant economic and military might, which led to their perception of superiority and  invincibility in the global framework. Consequently, the West frequently adopts priorities and ideas that have significant capacity to marginalize other regional or cultural viewpoints, which might lead to persistent prejudice.

The accusation of ICC bias towards the west is mainly driven by the valid factors of its reliance on its member states, which include those whom one day the court might prosecute. The ICC has also developed a close relationship with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): Russia, China, and the United States. Three of the permanent members of the UNSC have still refused to join the ICC, yet they are capable of deciding whether the court is able to investigate crimes committed by non-court signatories. The ICC has also been heavily funded by European countries, which raises concerns about its legitimacy. This primary factor often prompts accusations of the ICC being a tool of the West and casts doubt on the ICC’s credibility as an international court.

An example that illustrates the frustration of African nations is the initiation of legal proceedings by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against several African presidents, such as Omar Bashir of Sudan, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and William Ruto. This led to political divisions within Kenya and political repression in certain African countries. Unlike other African countries, the claim of prejudice is clearly present in the case of US participation in Afghanistan, as the ICC is seen to have taken less action compared to other cases on the continent.

The frustration of African countries mostly stems from the ICC’s perceived bias and unjust focus on prosecuting them. In response, the ICC argues that it is impractical to investigate and bring charges against countries who have not ratified the Rome Statute and thus do not acknowledge  the  court’s  authority.  Considering  that  non-member  states of the  International Criminal Court (ICC) are shielded by the veto power of the Permanent Five (P5) at the United Nations Security Council, it is practically unfeasible for the ICC to surpass the veto power of these countries.

In fact, it is undeniable that the ICC heavily relies on the UNSC, and indirectly on the countries that wield the veto power (P5), which could potentially impact ICC investigations. The veto- wielding power possesses the ability to shield allied states from prosecution, even when they are convicted of serious crimes. Therefore, this issue is not solely about ‘bias’ towards a particular country, but rather a political reality that the global community must recognize: countries with significant economic and military power will always hold precedence over other states, or in this case, an international court.

Hence, in order to effectively address this claim, the ICC must prioritise the reformation of its structure and system to ensure that it operates independently, devoid of any interference from countries with veto power. This is crucial for restoring the connection between the ICC and African nations. In order to ensure that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has complete jurisdiction to enforce justice in nations that have close relationships with veto power countries, it is imperative to reduce the influence of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This can be achieved by proposing revisions to the Rome Statute to eliminate the idea of immunity.

To enhance the connection between Africa and the ICC, the ICC must enhance its mechanisms to prioritise justice and the rule of law, rather than focusing on individual adoration. This objective can be accomplished by bolstering African engagement in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and improving cooperation. This initiative will contribute to restoring the confidence of African nations in the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an independent global institution dedicated to promoting global peace without any exceptions.

Therefore, having a naive focus solely on the International Criminal Court’s bias against Africa is also a reflection of the limitations of the ICC’s authority itself and an absence of regard for what actually took place. The International Criminal Court (ICC), hampered by the judgments of countries motivated by personal interests, is unable to accurately conduct its actions. This is because the  manner  in which  individuals  from Western countries engage with  international organizations has already influenced the establishment of certain agendas or issues. The ICC was established with the ambitious objective of eradicating the assumption of immunity enjoyed by the powerful. However, numerous more powerful nations that employ force against non-combatants have shielded  themselves  from the court’s legal authority.  Less powerful regimes,  prone to violence, have willingly subjected themselves to the court’s authority. Instead of being a tool for the less powerful to use against the more powerful, the court has primarily been a tool for fragile nations to use against even weaker non-state entities. However, the International Criminal Court remains a crucial element in preserving global stability by trying to established a systematic framework that governs state interactions, ensures the protection of human rights, and establishes mechanisms for national responsibility.

Aisha Khaira Latifa Syafii
Aisha Khaira Latifa Syafii
I'm Aisha Khaira Latifa Syafii an undergraduate student of International Relations at Gadjah Mada University and I'm interested in international issues, specifically on geopolitics. As a student I'm eager to share my point of views through my writings and also to deepen my understanding of international dynamics.