The Gambia is no longer going to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the new government has announced, thus rescinding the decision by the previous administration to leave.
Last October, the government of President Yahya Jammeh said The Gambia would quit the ICC, accusing it of being biased against Africa, from which all the cases before the court come.
But the new Gambian President, Adama Barrow, announced in a recent televised broadcast that he had written to the UN Secretary General in January to inform him of the intention to reverse the decision to withdraw.
“As a new government that has committed itself to the promotion of human rights … we reaffirm The Gambia’s commitment to the principles enshrined in the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court,” said President Barrow.
Under former President Jammeh, The Gambia joined South Africa and Burundi to deposit instruments of withdrawal from the ICC. The Gambian government accused the ICC of “persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.
The then Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, said the court had been used “for the persecution of Africans and especially their leaders” while ignoring crimes committed by the West.
The President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute of the ICC, Sidiki Kaba, has welcomed the Gambian decision “This important decision signals the renewed commitment of the new authorities of The Gambia to the ICC, and to the shared values of all States Parties, of prosecuting the most serious crimes that shock the conscience of humanity,” he said..
Mr. Kaba urged ICC member states to continue their support for the Rome Statute system and to encourage other states to ratify the treaty in order to achieve universality as soon as possible. “I am convinced that the continued support of the international community and the cooperation of states remain necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the ICC,” he said.
During the launch of the book, The International Criminal Court and Africa: One Decade On, in The Hague in October, the editor of the volume, Evelyn Ankumah, looked at the decisions to withdraw in a different light.
“States do not decide to withdraw from a lame duck court that has no practical value,” she noted. If the ICC were a powerless court, or if Burundi, South Africa and The Gambia had nothing to fear from the ICC, there would be no need for them to step out”, Ms. Ankumah added.
“The politically bold decisions to withdraw from the Rome Statute demonstrate and confirm that the ICC has evolved as a court that truly matters. While four convictions in more than 10 years may not seem a lot, it is plain that the ICC is not a court that just barks. It is a Court that may actually bite,” she added.
Welcoming President Barrow’s announcement, Clément Capo-Chichi, the Africa Coordinator for the Coalition for the ICC (CICC), a global NGO network, said the “decision to reverse withdrawal from the ICC is a crucial development for victims of grave crimes and the rule of law”.
“The new president has sent an important signal to the world that human rights are central to his new administration and that international justice continues to matter in Africa. We urge South Africa and Burundi to follow The Gambia’s lead in returning to the ICC fold and putting victims first,” Mr Capo-Chichi added.
President Barrow has also announced that The Gambia will re-join the Commonwealth in the coming months. In 2013, the country withdrew from the organisation under ex-President Jammeh whose government said it was a “neo-colonial institution”.
The government said then that The Gambia “will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
A Commonwealth Secretariat spokesperson in London said the organisation, a voluntary association of more than 50 independent and sovereign states, welcomed “any effort by the newly elected government of The Gambia to re-apply for membership of the Commonwealth”.
This would be done through “formal processes which have to be undertaken and membership agreed by the 52 heads of government,” the spokesperson said. “When The Gambia left the Commonwealth in 2013, the heads of government, meeting in Colombo in Sri Lanka that year, noted its decision with regret.
“We looked forward to the country’s eventual return because it was part of our very close knit family and our doors have always remained open,” the spokesperson added.