India must back Africa against ICC
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants a short-cut to winning influence and friends in Africa he need not look any further than publicly backing Kenya and the African Union in their fight against the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This organisation was founded in 2002 under the auspices of the United Nations and is the world’s first permanent international justice tribunal. But though international in name, it is hardly global in reach. US, Russia, China, and India are not signatories to the Rome Statute - the treaty that confirms membership to the Court. Instead, it is funded and run primarily by the Europeans – Britain and France in particular – who use the ICC as a key part of their foreign policy and influence.
All countries that sign up to the Court are supposedly bound by its jurisdiction. But in reality, this is not an institution that would ever try a European. Indeed, as former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook once made clear, the ICC is “not a court set up to bring to book Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom or the Presidents of the United States”. Rather, as eminent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Roberston stated that its over-riding purpose was to enable “the civilised nations of the world to teach savages how to behave”.
It is clear that those “savages” are the African people – the only people the ICC has ever brought to trial. Because of this, many African nations are seriously aggrieved. Some, led by Kenya and South Africa are now even considering withdrawal because of its perceived bias, and because they see the Court as a means of leading European benefactors to arrest and try foreign political leaders they are opposed to, through the cover of an international institution.
Now India too is feeling the influence of the ICC. During the recent India-Africa Summit hosted by Modi, the ICC Prosecutor issued India an arrest warrant to hand over the President of , Omar al-Bashir. The government rightly rebuffed the Court’s demand to arrest and extradite Bashir, saying, as it is not a member it was not required to act on their order. The Court replied that India still has obligations under international law that it failed to fulfill by refusing the arrest.
African members have experienced such methods, threats, and demands since they joined. The most famous two cases at the ICC – the now collapsed case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the still ongoing trial of his deputy William Ruto are examples of how one European power (Britain) has used the court to conduct its geopolitical affairs under the ruse of supporting international justice. In both cases the UK funded the ICC witness protection scheme that brought out of the country dozens of individuals who had given evidence that confirmed the charges against both men.
Many of those witnesses have recanted their original testimony, or had it proved to be false. The original statements they gave were gathered by NGOs in Kenya that received funding from – you guessed it - the British government.
This is a clear case of a foreign power funding the sourcing of “evidence” and then financing the protection of those who gave it, in cases brought against democratically elected politicians from an independent country. This is a real challenge to Kenya’s sovereignty, and evidence of purposefully using financial inducements – such as the reward for a better life in Europe that the witness protection scheme offers – to encourage people to give fanciful statements that can later be used in convictions. It makes false claims that the ICC is about international justice: rather, it is just about politics.
It’s not the first time Britain has used these methods. Back in 1950 the then British colonial government in Kenya arrested Jomo Kenyatta – later that country’s the first President – who is the father of current President Uhuru Kenyatta, and put him on trial. The witness who gave the evidence that convicted Kenyatta senior admitted later that he had perjured himself in Court and had done so after being granted land by the colonial government as an inducement.
So where does this lead Modi? If India wants to demonstrate its seriousness about relations with Africa, he would win many friends and accolades by backing publicly backing their campaign against this Court. At the same time he might make it clear that India will hold no truck with countries that attempt to use the ICC as a method of gaining undue influence through the back door.
Modi is seeking to redefine India and revive the best of the country’s indigenous culture, just as many African leaders are seeking to throw off the worst vestiges of colonialism. This will – sooner or later – mean having to stand up to attempts by former colonial powers from seeking to maintain their influence over sovereign nations behind the cloak of international bodies.
India is right in seeking influence in Africa. To make clear his intent – and to demonstrate India now as a world power – Modi would be wise to back Africa against the International Criminal Court, and reprimand other countries that do not give Africans the equal status they deserve in the 21st Century.
(Joshua K. Terer is a former Kenyan High Commissioner to the Republic of India. Views expressed are strictly personal)