Former participant Shelter City raises the alarm: Gambia withdraws from International Criminal Court

Africa’s leaders do not wish to be held to account

In this article, Kofi*, a former Shelter City participant, raises the alarm as The Gambia plans to withdraw from ICC.

The Gambia Government has announced that it is withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court with effect from 25 October 2016. In a statement read over national television, the Minister of Information Sheriff Bojang said the reason for the withdrawal was because the ICC was a Western-backed institution designed for the “persecution of people of colour especially Africans and their leaders”. He continued describing that the ICC as “International Caucasian Court” had refused to indict former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes following the release of the Iraq Report in UK in July this year. The Gambia Government also accused Europe of “mass murder” for the deaths of African youths in the Mediterranean, about which Mr. Bojang said the Gambia Government had complained to the UN and the ICC to indict Western leaders for what he described as “genocide”.

About four days ago it was the turn of Burundi and South Africa to announce their withdrawal from the ICC. Both of them spew the same unintelligible anti-colonialist banter that the ICC unfairly targets Africa while South Africa added that its membership of the court undermines its AU obligations to ensure the diplomatic immunity of heads of states. The fact of the matter though is that Africa’s leaders do not wish to be held to account in any way by their own people. For far too long they have been having it roughshod over the heads of their citizens as they engage in rampant corruption, severe human rights violations and atrocities. In most of these countries and the continent at large, they have failed to develop and ensure efficient and effective domestic, sub-regional and continental judicial systems.

Atrocious misrule

In 2014, two UN special rapporteurs on summary executions and torture respectively visited The Gambia. On summary executions, the special rapporteur reported that there had been “resumption of executions, the use of force by law enforcement agencies, impunity for extrajudicial executions, the use of force during demonstrations, lack of accountability for human rights violations, groups at risk and fear of reprisals.” On torture, the special rapporteur reported that his visit, “was compromised due to the Government’s unwillingness to grant freedom of movement and inquiry to all areas of detention facilities, despite its initial acceptance of the terms of reference for all country visits by mandate holders.”

Since taken over power on 22 July 1994, incidences of summary executions have become common place in The Gambia. On 11 November 1994, scores of soldiers were summarily executed and buried in unidentified mass graves for allegedly staging a coup. Since then the country has seen more than 10 alleged coups in which an unidentified number of soldiers would be arrested and subjected to torture and executions. In April 2000, fourteen school children where gunned down in the main city of Kanifing while staging a peaceful protest against the rape of a school girl by paramilitary personnel, and another schoolboy beaten to death by officers of a fire brigade in the nearby town of Brikama. In April 2016, tens of youths staged a demonstration in Kanifing which was crushed violently by the paramilitary. They arrested all of the peaceful protestors and the leader of the group Solo Sandeng, who is the youth wing leader of the biggest opposition UDP party was tortured to death and buried in an unknown location. Scores of women were raped while several others tortured. When the leader of the party Mr. Ousainou Darboe and his executive members decided to march to the paramilitary headquarters to demand their release, they were met with a violent crackdown and then all of the arrested only to be charged with unlawful assembly and sentenced to three years prison since then. In June 2016, speaking at a mass political rally in Talinding neighborhood, Pres, Jammeh vowed to kill the majority Mandinka ethnic group as he described them as foreigners and vermin.

Thus the unilateral withdrawal of the Gambia by Jammeh, as he did not engage in the constitutional procedures for his action rather reflects on his atrocious misrule than on the nature of the ICC.

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