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Is the International Criminal Court Too Focused On Africa?

Many observers and critics of the International Criminal Court  argue that it has focused entirely on Africa and needs to expand its investigations to other continents. Some cast the ICC as a colonialist tool that is biased specifically against Africans.

But while it is true that all of the individuals charged by the court have been Africans, these arguments overlook the fact that African governments have been largely supportive of the ICC and were instrumental in its founding.

As many have noted, of the eight active formal investigations that the ICC has opened in its 10-year existence, all of them have been on the African continent.

It is easy, then, with just that information, to conclude that the court and its prosecutors have focused on Africa. But contrary to common perceptions, the ICC’s interventions in Africa have been called for and supported by African states.

In four instances – in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Mali – the situations were referred to the ICC prosecutor by those very states.

In those situations where investigations were opened on the volition of the prosecutor, there was also support from African governments. In Kenya, the prosecutor was given evidence of crimes allegedly committed during 2007-08 post-election violence by an international commission established by the Kenyan government.

Even then, an investigation was only formally opened after the Kenyan government failed to meet an agreed upon deadline for starting its own prosecutions.

Likewise, the investigation in Cote d’Ivoire was supported by the Ivorian government, under the leadership of President Laurent Gbagbo, which voluntarily accepted ICC jurisdiction in 2003.

The remaining investigations – in Darfur and Libya – were referred to the ICC prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council, with both referrals receiving support from African states sitting on the council at the time.

Rather than seeking out cases on the African continent, the ICC opened investigations where it was asked to, and where grave crimes were being committed. As current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said: “The office of the prosecutor will go where the victims need us … The world increasingly understands the role of the court and Africa understood it from the start. As Africans we know that impunity is not an academic, abstract notion.”

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