The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda has given the strongest indication yet that plans by some African countries to withdraw from the Rome Statute will in no way affect her ongoing investigations into alleged war crimes. She has vowed to keep going after perpetrators of atrocities.
Ms Bensouda has said her outfit will continue with its preliminary investigations in Burundi, which was launched in April, as she had the backing of more than 120 other member states.
Violence erupted in Burundi in April last year when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would be seeking a third term in office. The ensuing violence has forced over three hundred thousand Burundians to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia in October and November served notice to the United Nations of their intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Their withdrawal however does not take effect until after a year.
The three countries like many other African countries have accused the ICC of bias against Africa as all but one of the court’s 10 investigations have been in Africa. Five suspects convicted by the court are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Mali.
But the ICC has rejected the allegations of bias arguing that many of the cases were brought by African governments themselves.
The former Gambian Justice minister is quoted as saying: “Even if one country decides to withdraw from the ICC, this I believe, for the continent, speaking as an African, is a setback for the continent and this is also a regression for the continent.”
She has however dismissed assertions that all of the ICC’s cases are from Africa indicating that the court has 10 preliminary investigations into alleged atrocities in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Ukraine.
Amidst of concerns of a mass departure of member states especially from Africa, Bensouda said all other member states had renewed their commitment to the court which has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Russia which is not yet a member of the court but has signed the Rome Statute, said this month that it would remove its signature. The Philippines is also considering withdrawing its membership.
Established in July 2002, the ICC is a court of last resort, intervening in member countries when their national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to prosecute mass atrocities.