Dozens of heads of state — some of whom have been accused of war crimes or are wanted by the International Criminal Court — quietly approved the strategy on Tuesday, the last day of the AU summit in Addis Ababa.
African leaders have often accused the ICC of unfairly targeting them, pointing to the fact that of the 39 individuals indicted so far by the Hague-based court, all 39 are African.
There was no grand announcement of the decision as leaders rushed through an early closing ceremony and leaders congratulated each other while a choir belted out the AU anthem, which includes the line: “Let us dedicate ourselves to fight together/ for lasting peace and justice on earth.”
VOA News obtained verification of the decision from two sources who are well-connected within the AU, and who identically described the motion.
In short, they said, the decision is not legally binding, but rather a political statement of support by the AU that if any of the court’s 34 African members chooses to withdraw from the court, the AU will support the move.
In the last year, three African nations have expressed intent to begin the lengthy and complicated withdrawal process — Burundi, Gambia and South Africa.
Participants gather for a group photo for the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 30, 2017.
Decision could inspire more withdrawals
Researcher Ndubuisi Christian Ani of the Addis Ababa-based Institute for Security Studies said it could inspire other states to start looking to leave the ICC.
“The withdrawal strategy, it’s a political tool for the AU to voice the collective concerns of the African states regarding to the ICC. With the withdrawal strategy being adopted, it now motivates African states to withdraw based on their own sovereign decisions without any clash from the African Union,” he told VOA.
That may not sound like much, and he stressed that the strategy is “as vague as possible” — but it’s significant, especially for those who consider themselves victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The decision to withdraw is hugely, is very significant against the whole effort to combat human rights violations in Africa,” he said. “Especially in view of the fact that the African court is not yet functional and the judicial systems within the respective states, not reliable.”
A general view shows the headquarters of the African Union (AU) building in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Jan. 29, 2017.
Early warning system
As the sprawling AU headquarters compound returned to its usual laconic state on Wednesday morning, the re-elected commissioner of the Peace and Security Commission, Smail Chergui, was back at work on the business of brokering peace in the Central African Republic, where rebels have challenged the government and sown chaos since 2012.
He told VOA that the AU body is working hard on building an early warning system and a standby force to respond to conflict, along with demobilization initiatives in countries like conflict-plagued South Sudan.
But, he said, “this is not enough, indeed. When we talk about prevention, I think we also have to talk about our architecture for governance. These are interrelated. So, we are very active in working on all of those fields.”