South Africa's social rights activist, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu has warned that African leaders behind the move to extract the continent from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court ,are effectively seeking a licence to kill, maim and oppress their people without consequences.
The retired Anglican Bishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent to apartheid said: "Leaving the ICC would be a tragedy for Africa for three reasons. First, without justice, countries can attack their neighbours or minorities in their own countries with impunity".
Archbishop Tutu made the comments in a release in connection with calls from some African leaders for the AU to pull out of the ICC, which is currently trying Kenyan president Ohuru Kenyatta and his vice William Ruto over alleged crimes against humanity.
Read below, the full statement issued by Archbishop Tutu:
African leaders behind the move to extract the continent from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court are effectively seeking a licence to kill, maim and oppress their people without consequences.
They are saying African leaders should not allow the interests of the people to get in the way of their personal ambitions. Being held to account interferes with their ability to act with impunity. Those who get in their way should remain faceless and voiceless. They are arguing that the golden rule of reciprocity should not apply to them. And nor should any legal system.
But they know that they cannot say these things in public, so they say that the ICC is racist.
At first glance, when one tallies the number of African leaders versus European and North American leaders prosecuted by the court, their argument appears as if it might be plausible. When one considers the facts, however, one quickly realises that the number of Africans put on trial is an indictment of leadership and democracy in some countries, not of the court.
When thousands of people are murdered and displaced in any country, one would hope that country’s systems of justice would kick in to right the wrongs. But when that country is unwilling or unable to dispense justice, who should represent the interests of the victims?
Those accused of crimes proclaim their innocence and vilify the ICC as racist and unjust. The eight matters brought before the court were initiated by African countries and their leaders. There was no witch-hunt or imposition, the judges and investigators were invited in.
So while the rhetoric of leaders at the AU may play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear. Far from being a so-called “white man’s witch hunt,” the ICC could not be more African if it tried.
More than 20 African countries helped to found it. Of the 108 nations that initially joined the ICC, 30 were African. Five of the court’s 18 judges are African, as is the vice-president. The chief prosecutor, who has huge power over which cases are brought forward, is from Africa. The ICC is literally Africa’s court.
Leaving the ICC would be a tragedy for Africa for three reasons. First, without justice, countries can attack their neighbours or minorities in their own countries with impunity.
Two years ago, when the warlord Thomas Lubanga was arrested to face charges of conscripting child soldiers, the threat of the ICC undermined his support from other militia. In Cote D’Ivoire, since Laurent Gbagbo was taken to face justice in The Hague, the country has rebuilt. Without it, there would be no brake on the worst excesses of criminals. And these violent leaders continue to plague Africa. Perpetrators of violence must not be allowed to go free.
Second, without justice there can be no peace. In South Africa, it has taken a long process of truth and reconciliation for the wounds of apartheid to begin to heal. In Kenya, the post-election violence wounds will take a long time to heal. Put simply, where justice and order is not restored, there can be no healing, leaving violence and hatred ticking like a bomb in the corner.
Third, as Africa finds its voice in world affairs, it should be strengthening justice and the rule of law, not undermining it. Everyone has a duty to adhere to these principles; they are part of global collective responsibility, not a menu we can choose from as and when it suits us.
Right now, thousands of people from across the planet are joining a campaign hosted by Avaaz, an international advocacy organisation calling on Africa’s leaders to stay in the ICC and stand behind international justice and what it means for so many vulnerable citizens everywhere. They represent our global commitment to working together to make the future brighter and safer for the next generations.
The alternatives are too painful: Revenge, like what happened in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia; or blanket amnesty, a national commitment to amnesia like what happened in Chile. The only way a country can deal with its past is to confront it.
We need loud voices in Addis Ababa to deliver the message of the world’s people, to shout down those that want us to do nothing. At the front, we need the heavyweight champions of Africa – South Africa and Nigeria – to exercise their leadership and stop those that do not like the rules from attempting to re-write them.