The International Criminal Court and the African Union: Is the ICC a bulwark against impunity or an imperial Trojan horse?

  • Westen K. Shilaho
Keywords: Africa, Kenya, African Union, ICC, R2P, ethnicity, international criminal justice


There is a diplomatic impasse between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union (AU) regarding accountability for mass atrocities committed in Africa. The AU accuses the ICC of bias against African rulers, in effect, ‘Africans’, while the ICC insists that as a permanent legal institution, it affords justice to all victims of egregious crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And so Africans, victims of these crimes, deserve justice too. Since the indictment of the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, twice for crimes against humanity and then for genocide, the ICC has elicited antipathy from some African rulers and their supporters who perceive it as an adjunct of imperialism encroaching on Africa’s sovereignty. However, sovereignty entails responsibility to protect (R2P). The AU Constitutive Act of 2000 affirms this under the non-indifference principle. It is therefore counter-intuitive to accede to international norms and concurrently invoke ‘absolute sovereignty’ as  some African rulers attempt to do. Africa’s conflicts are characterised by mass atrocities owing to weak states that are unable and often unwilling to protect citizens and dispense justice. In some cases these states are themselves perpetrators of heinous crimes, which necessitates intervention by the international community. Historically, realpolitik, self-preservation and geopolitics have marred international criminal justice, and Africa’s relationship with the West is steeped in humiliation making some African rulers suspicious of Western-dominated institutions. The perception that the ICC dispenses lopsided justice stems from this history. This paper argues that the choice between justice and peace is a false one since the two mutually reinforce each other, while impunity, if not checked, portends instability in Africa.

Keywords: Africa, Kenya, African Union, ICC, R2P, ethnicity, international criminal justice


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eISSN: 1562-6997