Russia has become the fourth nation to announce its intention to cut ties with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Gambia, South Africa and Burundi have all announced their intention to withdraw from the ICC, however but Russia’s case is different.
Russia signed the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but never ratified it.
RSA 🇷🇺 (@EmbassyofRussia) November 16, 2016
“The international community pinned high hopes on the ICC, the first permanent international judicial institution, in the fight against impunity in the context of joint efforts to maintain international peace and security, resolve the existing conflicts and prevent new hotbeds of tension,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the court has not justified the expectations associated with it and failed to become a truly independent and authoritative international judicial body,” the ministry said. “The court’s inefficient and one-sided work in the cases investigated by it has been noted at various venues, including the UN General Assembly and Security Council. It is indicative that during the 14 years of its work, the ICC passed just 4 sentences spending more than $1 billion.”
On Monday (November 14) the ICC angered Moscow by referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea as an armed conflict. It is also examining allegations of war crimes committed by Russian and Georgian forces during a brief 2008 war.
Russia is under international pressure over its campaign of air strikes in Syria, with some human rights activists and US officials accusing it of bombing civilians and civilian targets. Russia has denied those allegations.
Moscow’s announcement may be welcomed by African states like South Africa and Gambia but critics said the move was yet another example of Moscow flouting international norms.
“It confirms Russia’s retreat from its international commitments,” said Human Rights Watch activist Liz Evenson. “It’s closing the door for people within Russia to this important judicial institution.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the decision to withdraw Russia’s signature had been taken “in the national interest” and was a formality as it didn’t change anything as far as jurisdiction was concerned.
Philippines may be next to leave
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday (November 17)said he might follow Russia and withdraw from the ICC, citing criticism from Western nations for a rash of killings unleashed by his war on drugs.
Duterte described the ICC as “useless” and expressed frustration about the West’s allegations of extrajudicial killings and its failure to understand his crackdown on narcotics. He also appeared to blame the United Nations for failing to prevent wars all over the world.
Duterte took aim at US foreign policy and the United Nations and said he would be happier if China and Russia called the shots.
“You know, if China and Russia would decide to create a new order, I will be the first to join,” he said.
The ICC, which has operated out of The Hague since 2002, is an international tribunal executing justice on behalf of the world community.
It is the first legal body with permanent international jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Each of these definitions is interpreted differently in different countries but the states that join the ICC agree to understand them in the same way.
The ICC said in its latest report that it will likely conduct an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan by both Taliban forces and the US military.
It is important to note that China, India, Pakistan, Iraq (among others) have never been members of the ICC. Ukraine, USA, Israel and Thailand are among states like Russia, who are signatories but did not ratify their membership.
The ICC, Out of Africa. https://t.co/TOKu1ROUOJ. By Thierry Cruvellier for
nytimes</a>. <a href="https://t.co/U7VOkCWw7C">pic.twitter.com/U7VOkCWw7C</a></p>— Timo Mueller (MuellerTimo) November 11, 2016
Why are countries leaving?
Burundi became the first nation to announce its withdrawal from the ICC in October 2016.
The small central African nation criticised the ICC for focussing more on African cases than any other.
Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe said at the time that “there are some… politically motivated reasons which pushed the ICC to act on African cases. How many times have you heard about the ICC investigating crimes committed in Iraq? How many times have you heard about the ICC investigating crimes committed in Afghanistan?”
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced in April that she would open an investigation into “acts of killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence” in Burundi.
Despite government ministers denying it is the case, Human Rights Watch argue that the real reason behind Burundi’s exit is this investigation.
Elise Keppler, the associate director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch, said “we can see Burundi clearly has a kind of callous interest in trying to remove itself from the International Criminal Court.”
“We believe that it is too much fabrication to say that the government of Burundi has withdrawn from the ICC because it was accused of crimes against humanity,” Foreign Minister Nyamitwe retorted.
South Africa was the second nation to announce its separation from the ICC.
In 2015 South Africa had made its difficulties with the court clear, as it declined to arrest President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, when he visited the country. Al-Bashir faces charges of war crimes and genocide over the war in Darfur.
The Rome statute, which created the ICC, says signatories must arrest anyone sought by the Court.
“The ICC’s obligations are inconsistent with domestic laws giving sitting leaders diplomatic immunity, the country’s justice minister, Michael Masutha said.
Foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa found its obligations to human rights “incompatible” with the ICC interpretation of those rights
“South Africa’s sudden notice to withdraw from the ICC is a betrayal to millions of victims of the gravest human rights violations” – Netsanet Belay, Africa Director: Research and Advocacy
The third, and third African, nation to leave the ICC is Gambia. The west African nation’s information minister Sheriff Bojang said the court had ignored Western war crimes, mirroring the accusation by Burundi that the court unfairly targets African crimes.
Bojang went as far as to cite former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as a leader the ICC had failed to indict.
The Killings of Tony Blair: watch the trailer for George Galloway's film about the former PM – video https://t.co/rEIIZ8WDuE— EllieMc (@elliemc42) October 11, 2016
Bojang referred to the Court on television as the International Caucasian Court
ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda is Gambian, and a former Justice minister.
Gambia has attempted to indict the EU over the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean
How does it work?
The ICC describes itself as “the world’s first permanent international criminal court”, which “investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
The Court is a supplementary judicial system which aims to prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes where a nation state is unwilling or unable to prosecute itself.
The ICC can prosecute if a crime took place in one of the 139 signatory countries; if a crime was committed in another country by citizens from one of the 139; or if the situation was referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council (under chapter 7 of the UN Charter – “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression”)
One of the innovative structures of the ICC is the rights given to victims. The Rome Statute provides victims with the opportunity to have their evidence heard.
What has the ICC ever done for us?
current cases- tweet linking to annual report by Bensouda. Shows investigations in: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Palestine, Nigeria, Ukraine and Comoros (half are African nations if Iraq/UK is seen as one case)
The Court has closed five cases concerning Kenya, Sudan (Darfur) and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All cases were closed without charges.
There are five ongoing cases on trial for war crimes in Darfur (Sudan), Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There are 10 “situations under investigation.” Georgia, opened in January 2016 (which has prompted Russia withdrawing its signature from the Rome statue). Central African Republic II, opened May 2014. Also Mali, opened in Janurary 2013, Côte d’Ivoire (February 2013), Darfur (June 2005), Central African Republic (May 2007), Uganda (July 2004), and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 10 “preliminary examinations” focus on war crimes or crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Gabon, Guinea, Iraq (for crimes committed by United Kingdom nationals), Nigeria, Palestine, Ukraine and a case on the 2010 Humanitarian Aid Flotilla under the title “Registered Vessels of Comoros, Greece and Cambodia”.
The Gaza Flotilla case is being reconsidered according to the last annual report after the Prosecutor first decision not to investigate it.
Will #ICC see through #Israel's sham justice? https://t.co/yzbcEwk050 via
intifada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Palestine?src=hash">#Palestine</a> <a href="https://t.co/9VhCopPgrR">pic.twitter.com/9VhCopPgrR</a></p>— al whit (soitiz) October 26, 2016
Defenders of the Court highlight its role in defending the Palestinian territories cause.