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African countries back away from ICC withdrawal demand

June 8, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – More than 30 African countries which are members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have failed to agree on a mass withdrawal from the court during their meetings in the Ethiopian capital.

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International Criminal Court

The proposed move was to be in a protest of an arrest warrant issued by the ICC for Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir last March in connection with war crimes committed in Darfur.

Furthermore African politicians accuse the court of unfairly targeting its statesmen while not looking at human rights abuses elsewhere.

The ICC is currently handling 4 cases consisting of Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Darfur.

With the exception of Darfur all other cases have been referred voluntarily by their respective governments to the ICC for investigation.

The move drew a strong rebuke from the African Union (AU) despite comprising the majority of the court members. The ICC is governed by the Rome Statute that entered into force in 2002. Since then more than 108 countries have ratified the treaty.

The UNSC issued resolution 1593 under chapter VII in March 2005 referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC. At the time Tanzania and Benin voted in support of the resolution while Algeria abstained.

Sudan has lobbied African countries to withdraw their ratification of the treaty as a show of solidarity while some Sudanese officials have said that they hope such action would weaken The Hague based court.

But the meetings that convened in Addis Ababa this week to discuss withdrawal took a different turn when most African countries favored asking the UN Security Council (UNSC) to suspend the case against Bashir instead of unsigning the Rome Statute.

“They will reach a consensus and ask for the warrant against al-Bashir to be deferred for some time,” a diplomat told Reuters.

“But an en masse withdrawal will not happen,” he added.

Diplomats told Reuters only Libya, Senegal, Djibouti and the Comoros had lobbied their peers for a withdrawal from the court.

Libya is not a member of the ICC but is believed to have persistently pushed African signatories to withdraw. The Libyan leader Muammar Khadafy described the ICC as a “terrorist organization” following Bashir’s indictment.

Senegal was one of the earliest signatories of the Rome Statute depositing its instrument of ratification in 1999.

Last year the Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade told his Sudanese counterpart during a phone conversation that he would not be able to offer him refuge if there is an arrest warrant for him.

Wade speaking from Chicago told Senegal News Agency (APS) that he informed Al-Bashir that they are party to the ICC and they cannot “make an exception”.

Furthermore, Senegal assisted the ICC in its investigation of the attack by Darfur rebel commanders on AU peacekeepers in 2007.

Djibouti and Comoros Island, both ICC members, have publicly announced that they will not honor their obligations under the Rome Statute and would host Bashir without apprehending him.

It is likely that African ICC members are more concerned about the risk of losing access to millions of dollars in aid from the European Union (EU) as some bilateral agreement link it to ratification of the Rome Statute.

(ST)