The 27th African Union Summit, which took place recently in Kigali, Rwanda, has come and gone, leaving behind far reaching decisions on burning issues that can impact on the lives of Africans and the development of the continent.

One of such issues was the call by some member countries that Africa should withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The call was championed by Kenya, which claimed that the ICC was targeting only African leaders.

Chad’s President Idriss Debby supported the call by Kenya, saying, “Elsewhere in the world, many things happen, many flagrant violations of human rights, but nobody cares.”  

On the Other hand, Nigeria was on the opposing side, with support from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, and Algeria.

This group argued that the AU, as an entity, is not a member of the ICC and there are about twenty countries in the AU that are not members of the court and so there can’t be a collective decision on exiting the ICC.

Shedding more light on the matter, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama in an interview with Journalists in Kigali said no decision was reached on the matter.

“After the indictment of the President of Kenya and his Vice, some African countries called for a collective withdrawal from the ICC because they felt that only African countries were being unfairly targeted and so they felt that the court had lost its credibility,” he said.

The Minister further stated that the countries opposing the move to pull out of the membership of the court, argued that no collective treaty was signed by African countries to join the court, therefore; there can’t be a joint action on withdrawing. 

“Some countries felt that since the accession to the treaty establishing the ICC was undertaken by countries on an individual basis, that it did not make sense for there to be a collective withdrawal, that if any country that acceded was not happy with the way the court is being run, then there should be an individual withdrawal as it were. Also, they believed that if there are changes that you could try and effect them within the court. Almost half of the AU member states are not parties to the Rome convention establishing the ICC, it doesn’t make sense that they should be party to a movement to get those who had acceded to withdraw collectively,” the Minister explained.

It would be recalled that following the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court was established in 2002 as the last resort to try war criminals and perpetrators of genocide but were never tried at home.

The court has so far opened inquiries involving nine nations, which include Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Mali and most recently, Georgia.

It is the opinion of some that the efforts of Nigeria and the other countries that opposed the move, provides a real boost to the ICC. More such efforts will be needed in the future, bolstered by other African ICC members such as Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Ghana.

The ICC has its problems, but in the absence of action before national courts, it remains the only chance through which those responsible for the world’s worst crimes, even those at the highest levels of government like sitting Presidents may be held to account.

That is something well worth saving and improving for Africans and people everywhere.

Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, led the country’s delegation to the summit in Kigali, Rwanda, which took place from 17th to the 19th of July 2016.


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