I won’t act like I am a fan of international bodies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, or the International Criminal Court (ICC).
All these organizations, at some stage in their respective histories, have engaged in some of the most atrocious liberty-violating conduct, especially where it lobbies its member states for policy changes. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for example, has on more than one occasion recommended to South Africa’s government that income and corporate taxes must be raised. The World Health Organization, similarly, has long championed stricter regulations on those activities it considers to be unhealthy, and has welcomed ‘sin’ taxes.
All these taxes and regulations, for those who don’t know, have a vast array of unintended consequences, and often, if ever, do not achieve their aims. The burden that any new tax or regulation creates, will always end up being effortlessly shifted onto the poor.
It would be intellectually dishonest to believe the International Criminal Court is exempt from such an anti-freedom mindset in the international arena.
The most pressing example of the ICC engaging in questionable behavior has been its refusal to bat an eye at how the Islamic world – indeed, Islamic governments, and, for the purposes of the ICC, individuals within Islamic governments – treats women and homosexuals. Rape and sexual assault are recognized crimes against humanity by UN Security Council Resolution 1820. Sharia law all but celebrates this kind of heinous conduct toward women, and this atrocious legal regime is either officially adopted or explicitly endorsed by the vast majority of Islamic nations. The ICC simply doesn’t care, whether that is due to political correctness, or a concern about the West’s oil supply.
But despite these notable and important imperfections, the decision by South Africa’s executive cabinet to leave the International Criminal Court sets a potentially disastrous precedent for the rest of Africa.
Professor George Ayittey outlined seven critical institutions which an African nation requires for successful governance. Among these are the checks and balances afforded by the legislature and the independent judiciary, and an independent electoral agency. The mere presence of these institutions is insufficient; their character must also be appropriate. When the judiciary is too afraid to cross the President, or when the legislature is simply a rubber stamp for the ruling party’s internal decisions, or when the electoral agency has its mind made up about election results before the first vote is cast, these institutions are useless.
And these useless institutions are unfortunately what currently characterizes the African political dynamic. At this stage I must stress that I do not care whether this also happens in Europe or America; indeed, I am an African, and just because someone else is governing their nation poorly, doesn’t mean we must of necessity follow suit. South Africa might have a relatively strong judiciary which, in most recorded cases, finds solidly against the executive government, but the same cannot be said for some of our immediate neighbors or other nations throughout the continent.
There currently exists no reason to believe that if African countries exit the ICC, their internal mechanisms will hold those who commit crimes against humanity to account. Indeed, the opposite is true, if we take into account how African countries have dealt with dictators and genocidal maniacs in the past. For instance, why is it that the ICC must be responsible for bringing Omar al-Bashir to justice? Why has the Sudanese criminal justice system not dealt with the man?
Moreover, the African Union, or so-called ‘African solutions to African problems’, are not the answer, either. Ayittey summed up what the African Union is, in practice, quite brilliantly, when he wrote “it is famous for its annual summits, where unrepentant despots sip champagne and applaud their own longevity while issuing preposterous communiqués that nobody else in the world pays attention to.”
The AU is a club for dictators. It has greenlit electoral fraud across the continent, notably in Zimbabwe, where the ancient Robert Mugabe continues to try his best to starve or otherwise drive Zimbabweans across the border to greener pastures. No ‘African Union Court’ is going to hold al-Bashir or Mugabe to account.
But the ICC might.
The ICC does not share the same political interests as the African dictators’ club. Indeed, the West has its own political interests which hinder it from holding its own leaders to account, but it has few reservations about throwing African tyrants in prison. And while the double standard is worrying, we should not be sad to see these tyrants go.
If South Africa leaves the ICC, I have no doubt that other African nations will feel sufficiently confident to do the same, thus robbing one of the only institutions which is not afraid of African dictators of its jurisdiction. Indeed, as Africans we will be robbing ourselves of a relatively painless and peaceful way of ridding ourselves of despots. Do we want to go down a path where the only certain way of achieving freedom, is through armed revolt?
We must not allow our pride as Africans to blind us to the reality of politics on our continent. Our liberal democratic institutions are nowhere near where they need to be; and, if that wasn’t clear to any South African reading this, yes, that includes South Africa.
Let’s rather use the ICC to our advantage and remove the cancerous looters and tyrants who continuously push for Africa’s death-by-hemorrhage.
Martin van Staden is an SFL African Executive Board member.