Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Botswana defends pro-ICC stance

Foreign affairs and international cooperation minister, Phandu Skelemani, has defended Botswana’s position on the International Criminal Court. While the rest of the continent is opposed to the manner in which this court conducts its business, Botswana is the only exception. Following a recent summit, the African Union urged its members to “speak with one voice” against criminal proceedings at the ICC against sitting presidents. The argument that has been given with regard to sitting presidents is that the proceedings are a distraction when leaders are should to be focussed on the more pressing problems of governing.

On the other hand, Skelemani argues that when African leaders signed the Rome statute that established the ICC in 2002, they were fully aware of the fact that sitting presidents would be tried if they were found to have broken the law. All the 21 cases in eight countries opened by the court have been from Africa. This has prompted African countries to make the charge that the ICC has become a racist, imperialist institution that is systematically targetting African presidents.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya who is facing war crimes charges at the ICC alongside his deputy, William Ruto, has branded the court “a painfully farcical pantomime” and “a toy of declining imperial powers.” The two leaders face charges of crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating post-election violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed following a disputed presidential election in late 2007. Both deny the charges. Skelemani says that he finds the witch-hunt argument “baffling” because the ICC doesn’t go after suspects but that they are brought before it. “The ICC has no power to say who can and can’t be brought before it – it is just like our High Court. All the Africans who are being tried at the ICC were reported to the court by fellow Africans,” he says, citing the case of Kenya where, by his account, the war crimes case was referred to the ICC when the suspects couldn’t be tried in their own country.

Some have suggested that Botswana’s position on the matter has potential to alienate the country from the rest of the continent. Skelemani says that any aspersions cast on the country for the principled position it has taken on the ICC matter would be a gross misinterpretation of facts as they stand. “We are only doing what the law that established this court requires. The AU took this matter up with the United Nations which only restated what the law says and what we have stated all along,” he says.

That would be last October when the AU asked the Security Council to defer the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto but was turned down. The request was made following the siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

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