"I don’t think Africa is ready to leave the ICC", says Ivorian liberal politician
By Daouda Coulibaly
During the 26th summit of the African Union in Ethiopia on 31 January, some African heads of state backed a Kenyan proposal to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. They accused the ICC of targeting Africa. But not everyone on the continent is in favour of pulling out of the Rome Statute. Mohamed Sylla is a special advisor, responsible for legal and electoral issues, for LIDER (Liberty and Democracy for the Republic), a liberal Ivorian political party.
Q: What do you think of the desire of some AU members to withdraw from the ICC?
I think they are misreading the current situation between the ICC and Africa. African heads of state seem to be questioning the ICC’s very existence. But if something needs to be revisted, it’s not the existence of the ICC but rather it’s Africa’s role and place within the Court. So Africa’s presence in the institution should be discussed, but not a withdrawal.
The Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document, gives the UN Security Council important prerogatives in launching and even stopping proceedings. So, in my opinion, if African countries want change, they should threaten to withdraw from the United Nations unless they get a permanent seat on the Security Council. The continent should adopt a global approach rather than an emotional one. Withdrawing from the ICC is not a solution, particularly for African people for whom international justice is their last resort, given the failures of African states.
Q: Do you think that Africa is ready to leave the ICC? Which alternatives would you suggest?
I don’t think Africa is ready to leave the ICC. Heads of state might want to, but the victims do not unless there’s a credible alternative which can the gap. I’m not in favour of withdrawing from the ICC. I think what is needed is strengthening the rule of law and democracy so that they become more firmly rooted in the continent. When African countries are able to make non-violent political transitions, no one will have any reason to complain anymore about the ICC. Ensuring the rule of law is the first battle that must be won, so that justice is the same for the average citizen and presidents. Afterwards, Africa could think of establishing a court along the same lines as the Extraordinary African Chambers, which is currently trying the former Chadian president. The way that trial has been conducted proves that when there is a will and funding, African justice can be fair. But, for the moment and until all the conditions have been met, the ICC continues to be the best defence against impunity. Of course, the ICC is far from being perfect, but its existence is better than the void it would leave behind.
Q: What do you think of the trial of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo? Do you think it will help contribute to reconciliation in Ivory Coast?
The start of this trial is a good thing because it brings an end to a long wait, which had started to weigh heavily on the accused, the victims and the rest of society. It’s a trial which evokes passions both in Ivory Coast and the rest of the continent. But, from what I’ve seen so far, the prosecutor doesn’t seem to be fully prepared nor is she in full control of the subject matter and her witnesses. The witnesses are contradicting themselves, getting lost in their explanations and the identity of some of them was revealed by accident. All this gives the sense that she is not fully prepared. But this is just the beginning. Let's see what happens in the coming weeks.
Q: For you, what is the recipe for true reconciliation in Ivory Coast?
One of the first steps should be justice. Only one side is currently on trial in The Hague. Unfortunately in Ivory Coast, the other side doesn’t seem to be too worried. This could make some victims feel that their pain counts less than that of other victims. It's obviously difficult to bring about reconciliation when victims see the perpetrators on the streets on a daily basis. Justice should be the same regardless of which side people were on. Politicians also need to convey positive signals. Their speeches need to be less virulent and more conciliatory. In that regard, the head of state, who’s the guarantor of stability and national cohesion, should play a more active role.
Daouda Coulibaly is an Abidjan-based journalist.
Lead image: Mohamed Sylla (Photo: Daouda Coulibaly/Justice Hub)