African Union summit raises withdrawal from International Criminal Court

Over 50 member-states of the African Union concluded its 21st Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 27. The regional grouping was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which originated during the height of the anti-colonial struggle during 1963.

Perhaps one of the most significant developments at this year’s summit was a draft resolution to withdraw the AU member countries from participation in the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague. Many African states are signatories of the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

However, the implementation of the ICC mandate to investigate and prosecute governmental and non-governmental organizations has been exclusively directed against heads of state and rebel groups on the African continent. The ICC has over recent years been described as the “African Criminal Court,” since the leaders of Sudan, Libya and Kenya have been indicted, while presidents and other officials from the imperialist states of the West have never been cited in potential criminal proceedings.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, speaking to the international media during the concluding sessions of the AU, stated that “The International Criminal Court is targeting Africans on a racial basis.  African leaders have come to a consensus that the [ICC] process that has been conducted in Africa has a flaw.” (BBC, May 27)

Desalegn, now the rotating chair of the AU, noted that “The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity … but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting.” The resolution passed on the final day of the summit said that the investigation and possible criminal indictments related to the situation in Kenya should be sent back for consideration to the East African state.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto are facing indictments by the ICC for alleged “crimes against humanity” during unrest in the aftermath of the previous national elections in Kenya during 2007-2008. Over 1,000 people were reportedly killed in the fighting between supporters of former candidates Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

The situation in Kenya was resolved when an international peacekeeping mission led by African leaders and elders negotiated the establishment of a coalition government resulting in the presidency of Kibaki and premiership of Odinga. Elections held in March brought about the ascendancy of Uhuru Kenyatta, who defeated Odinga in the first round of the poll.

Political violence in the aftermath of the recent elections in Kenya was minimal. The regional and continental African organizations all recognized the elections in Kenya as free and fair.

African Union Commission chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the international media on May 27 that since Kenya had adopted a new constitution, the remanding of the charges against Kenyatta and Ruto would be appropriate and satisfactory to the people of the country and the African continent as a whole. “Now that Kenya has reformed its judiciary and Kenyans have confidence in their judiciary system, things should be left to that country,” she said. (panapress,  May 27)

The ICC has also indicted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of the Republic of Sudan for that government’s efforts to defend the sovereignty of the country in the Darfur region, where a number of rebel organizations have been waging war against the state for a decade. In addition, during the initial phase of the imperialist war of regime-change against the North African state of Libya, the martyred former leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, along with two other officials, including his son Seif al-Islam, were indicated by the ICC for alleged crimes committed while fighting against an imperialist onslaught on their country.

Resolutions on development issues

The resolutions passed by the AU in Addis Ababa have been described as forward looking. A decision was made to develop goals to be carried out over the next five decades, called Africa 2063.

In addition, a 2014-2017 plan was also adopted to deal with short-term objectives. Dlamini-Zuma said during the concluding press conference that 2063 “is a timeline we have set for our children and grandchildren to see what Africa would have achieved in trade, in industrialization, in infrastructure and development in general.

“If you plan for five years, you don’t have a long vision of where you want to be,” she said. “As our founding fathers planned for the future regarding independence, we have to think about the economic sovereignty of this continent.”  (panapress, May 27)

Dlamini-Zuma also pointed out that the questions of internal destabilization must be addressed seriously. “We also looked at issues of peace and security. We believe that sooner than later the guns should be silenced on our continent. Dialogue must continue so that parties in conflict do not take up arms,” she emphasized.

Need for an African standby force

Another important issue involving the African Union is the question of imperialist military interventions. Since 2011 several states have been attacked. Governments have been overthrown by Western states in Libya and Ivory Coast, while France and the United States have intervened in various forms in Somalia, Mali and Niger.

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has grown during the administration of President Barack Obama. In December, Obama announced he would send 3,500 Special Forces and military trainers to nearly three dozen states throughout the continent.

Also under Obama the escalation of drone usage and the placing of CIA field offices have accelerated in Africa. Obama announced recently that he will travel to at least three states in Africa later this year. Secretary of State John Kerry made a brief visit to the AU Summit in Addis Ababa.

During the AU Summit, the French government announced it was conducting a partial withdrawal of its forces, which have been occupying Mali since January. Nonetheless, some 3,700 French troops will remain inside the West African country until the end of this year. Even after the end of the year, the French war ministry says it will keep 1,000 troops on the ground in Mali.

On May 23-24, a series of attacks in Niger resulted in the deaths of over two dozen Nigerien troops at an army barracks and at an Areva uranium mining facility owned by France. Paris immediately announced that an undisclosed number of its Special Forces were operating in pursuit of the Signatories in Blood and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, who are said to have claimed joint responsibility for the attacks.

There was further discussion on the development of an African Standby Force to address conflicts taking place across the continent. France and the U.S. have used instability in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Niger and Libya as a rationale for military interventions.

African Union Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told the international media that a force of some 32,500 troops will be developed for deployment in case of emergencies. At present only regional forces are in existence and there are serious problems associated with their capacity to respond rapidly to internal and cross-border conflicts.

“This is meant as an interim measure pending the full operationalization of the African standby force,” Lamamra told reporters at the AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

“In the meantime, crises, unconstitutional changes of government, massive violations of human rights are likely to happen here and there, so from a responsible point of view, we say we cannot wait until we get a perfect tool to be used.”

Until Africa comes to grips with foreign interference in its internal affairs, real development, economic independence and sovereignty will remain elusive. The growing military involvement of the imperialist states is providing the political imperative for these critical challenges to be addressed.