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Amnesty: Why states should not abandon the International Criminal Court

Amnesty International has urged states to work to strengthen rather than withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda
The ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

The human rights organisation said victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations deserve to have their day in court.

Many African countries have lost trust in the ICC. So far Burundi, South Africa and Gambia have taken steps to withdraw their membership.

Russia has also decided to withdraw from the Court.

The 15th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute – the ICC’s founding treaty – is currently underway in The Hague, Netherlands.

“Rather than choosing to abandon what is in many cases the only avenue towards justice for millions of vulnerable victims of crimes under international law, states must engage in good faith with the International Criminal Court. They must use their collective power to challenge the double standards, shameful failures and politicization of justice by the UN Security Council,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa.

“This session must not be dominated by the cynical political decisions of a small number of governments to leave the Court. Instead, its supporters must focus on making the system stronger,” Belay added.

Amnesty observed that while there are legitimate concerns around the near-exclusive focus on Africa of the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions, there are strong indications that the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is seeking to address this imbalance and expand its work to other regions.

The human rights organisation also criticised the United Nations Security Council’s efforts to politicize the work of the Court by referring some situations but not others.

It appealed to all the 124 member states of the Assembly to work together to confront these double standards.

In order to strengthen the Court and its ability to deliver justice to victims, Amnesty urged all states parties to affirm their support for the ICC. It also appealed to South Africa, Gambia and Burundi to reconsider their decisions to withdraw from the Court.

Amnesty has also called on permanent members of the UN Security Council to refrain from using their veto power to block referrals to the Prosecutor of the ICC of situations involving war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.