The International Criminal Court in session
The International Criminal Court in session

Was ICC built for Africa?

I read with dismay a news report from Aljazeera in which the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Karim A. A. Khan is reported to have said that an unnamed official had told him that the ‘ICC was built for Africa and thugs like Putin.’


I found the statement a bit disturbing because why would anybody think or say that a global court like ICC, which is supposed to be impartial and enjoys cooperation agreement with the United Nations be described as being set up for a particular race?

We know the ICC, as part of its mandate, investigates and where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. These crimes include genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

We also know that it was established in 2002 in response to calls to hold rogue leaders accountable for crimes committed.

Many were the questions that flooded my mind as I tried to find the answers - is it only in Africa that we have these rogue leaders? Could it be because leaders on the continent are almost always 'begging" for support from the West which has made the continent lose respect or because it is not doing things right domestically, hence always being caught up in the cases that constitute crimes as far as the court is concerned?

While I try to resist the attempt to put a chunk of the blame on the continent’s political leaders for reducing the continent to that level in the eyes of the world, the ICC itself cannot also escape blame by looking at the nationalities of those behind the cases it had so far handled; the nationalities of those issued with arrest warrants; those detained in detention centres; those convicted and those summoned. 


Since its establishment in Rome in 2002, according to information gathered from its site, 31 cases have been before the court with some cases having more than one suspect. It said ICC judges had issued 46 arrest warrants; 21 people had been detained in detention centres and had appeared before the court.

Seventeen people remained at large, while charges had been dropped against seven people due to their deaths. 

It went on further to state that nine summonses had been issued to appear and 10 convictions and four acquittals had been made. In all these, Africans dominate. In fact, for all the 31 cases that had been seen by the court, checks on the nationalities of the people revealed that they were Africans.  

From the first person convicted in 2012, Thomas Lubanga, a national of the Democratic Republic of Congo, all the others who had followed including high-profile personalities were Africans.

Among the high personalities are former Sudanese President, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, for whom two arrest warrants had been issued against for five counts of crimes against humanity; two counts of war crimes and three counts of genocide. He is reported to be at large.

Information from the ICC indicate that an arrest warrant was issued by the court in 2008 against the President and Commander-in-chief of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo), Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo and the charges brought against him were two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. Mr Bemba has since been acquitted by the court.

Another high-profile case involving an African is former Ivorian Leader, Laurent Gbagbo. Mr Gbagbo and Ble Goude were joined in 2016 in the trial and acquitted in 2019 by a majority from all charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 and 2011.

According to the BBC, Kenya's President,  Uhuru Kenyatta was indicted by the court in 2011 in connection with post-election violence and ethnic violence from 2007 to 2008 in which 1,200 people died.

Not forgetting the alleged Commander-in-chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, whom the court issued an arrest warrant against in 2005. He is at large.

Indeed, looking at all these individuals who are Africans, one is tempted to conclude that what the unnamed source told the ICC prosecutor might be true. Even the African Union has expressed similar concerns in the past when a senior AU official was reported as saying; the court was treating Africa unfairly. In that report in 2013, the BBC quoted the then Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying that the court was targeting Africa and Africans.

Mentioning their names here did not mean that they were justified in what they did that landed them at the court, no. If you commit a crime, you must pay for it but the rule should apply to everybody not a section of the human race.

Professor Antwi-Danso

However, the Dean and Director of Academic Affairs at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Professor Vladimir Antwi-Danso, thinks otherwise on the subject that the court was built for Africans.

“The ICC could not have been established purely for trying African repression. I do not think that is the motive. International organisations are set up for the whole world to obey and not specific to an area. It is only coincidental that at the beginning of the operationalisation of the ICC, many more Africans found themselves in the net. And it's precisely because most of the tenants of the ICC, the Rome Statute, had something more in common with what was happening in Africa,” he explained.

Speaking in an interview with the Daily Graphic, he pointed out that the whole world went to have the Rome Statues and it could not be that it was targeted towards Africa.


He stated that Africans were prosecuted a lot in the court because they were prone to criminal acts that were under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

On what the court can do to clear such misconceptions, Professor Antwi-Danso said the ICC should have the clout when it comes to the discharge of its duties. It should be firm, impartial and objective. Just as it did in quickly executing the arrest warrants against former President Gbagbo and others, it should do so with anybody from any other country.

There have been some suggestions to the effect that perhaps Africa is perceived this way because its leaders were usually begging for support from the West.  Nevertheless, Professor Antwi-Danso said it had nothing to do with that perception.


Much as I agree with the distinguished professor on this, I believe this statement from that unnamed official is a call on member states of the African Union to put their acts together in their respective home countries.


What are those things they are doing in their countries that are making them be dragged to the court frequently?  Electoral violence and the crackdown on opposition just so that they can stay in office for long are a few of the actions they carry out in their home countries that open them up for arrest by the court. Corruption and the high unemployment rates must also be dealt with since some of these lead to street protests and anger which lead to crackdowns on citizens.

Perhaps, it is about time the African Union condemned and reprimanded African leaders when they start to behave in ways that are likely to lead to prosecution by the ICC.

Africa is not a failed continent and if it cleans its house well, nobody would stand up to say the ‘ICC was built for Africa.’

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