International Criminal Court not biased against Africa

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been heavily criticized for its selection of situations and cases to investigate; it allegedly focuses too much on African countries. On the basis of empirical data researchers of VU University Amsterdam and Tilburg University have concluded that this criticism is unfounded. They analyzed which countries witnessed the worst human rights violations over a period of ten years and compared these to the situations investigated by the ICC. The ICC turns out to have indeed focused on the gravest situations within its jurisdictional reach.

The main aim of the ICC is to prosecute the most seri­ous crimes of concern to the international community. The Prosecutor of the ICC has, however, been heavily criticized for his selection policy. Countries from the African Union even threatened to withdraw from the ICC because of its alleged bias and unfair focus on situations within Africa.

In order to evaluate the selection of situations by the ICC Prosecutor, the researchers analyzed indicators of human rights violations within individual states collected between 2002 and 2011 by three widely accepted databases: 1) the Uppsala Conflict Data Program of global armed conflicts; 2) the Political Terror Scale, an index based on reports of Amnesty International and the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; and 3) the Failed States Index, developed by the Fund for Peace. They assumed that the level of human rights violations within a country is an important indication for occurrence of international crimes. For each investigated year the researchers compiled a top ten of most gravely affected countries.

The analysis shows that of the eight countries that witnessed the gravest human rights violations only three ratified the Statute of the ICC. The ICC is conducting investigations in two of them (Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast) and preliminary investigations in one (Afghanistan). For five situations which can be considered to be among the gravest, the ICC does not have jurisdiction unless they would be referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council or the countries would accept the ICC jurisdiction. The UNSC used this right for the situation of Darfur (Sudan), but not for the other four countries including Iraq. The fact that the ICC is not investigating these countries can therefore not be blamed on the Prosecutor.

From the countries that have ratified the ICC Statute, the Prosecutor is investigating four out of the ten countries with most serious  human rights violations (DRC, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Central African Republic) and conducting preliminary investigations in three (Afghanistan, Colombia and Guinea).

The researchers conclude that the Prosecutor of the ICC follows its own selection criteria and does focus on the grav­est situations where international crimes are supposedly committed given its jurisdictional reach. The criticism that it would mainly target African countries is unfounded; many African countries are being investigated by the Prosecutor because Africa is one of the major trouble spots in the world and because many African countries are party to the ICC Statute unlike many countries in other regions of the world affected by violence.

The research has been conducted by Barbora Holá (VU University) and Alette Smeulers and Maartje Weerdesteijn (Tilburg University). It has been published in the International Criminal Law Review 15 (2015).

Source: Tilburg University