Gambia says it is leaving International Criminal Court

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - A third African country, Gambia, says it will leave the International Criminal Court as fears grow of a mass pullout from the body that pursues some of the world's worst atrocities.

Gambia announced the decision on television Tuesday night, accusing the court of unfairly targeting Africa and calling it the "International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans."

The move comes after South Africa, once a strong ICC supporter under former President Nelson Mandela, last week notified the United Nations secretary-general it would leave the court. Early last week, Burundi's president signed legislation to leave the court as well.

The withdrawal of the African countries has been criticized by human rights groups. "Shameful club of leaders who ignore victims of atrocity crimes," the EU director for Human Rights Watch, Lotte Leicht, tweeted Wednesday. The court was set up to pursue cases of alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Gambia's decision is also striking because the ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is Gambian.

The information minister of the tiny West African country, Sheriff Baba Bojang, said in the statement late Tuesday that the court is involved in "the persecution of Africans, and especially their leaders."

Only Africans have been charged in the six ICC cases that are ongoing or about to begin, though preliminary ICC investigations have opened elsewhere. Experts point out that all but one of the ICC cases in Africa were referred to the court by African countries themselves or by the U.N. Security Council.

Under the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, signatory countries have a legal obligation to arrest anyone sought by the tribunal, but some African states have allowed people wanted by the ICC, notably Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, to visit, and some say leaders ought to be immune from prosecution.

Gambia's information minister accused "at least 30" Western countries of having committed war crimes against their citizens since the ICC was founded more than a decade ago and said none has been targeted by the court. He singled out former British prime minister Tony Blair for his role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Gambia has begun the process of withdrawing from the ICC, which involves notifying the U.N. secretary-general and takes effect a year after the notification is received, said the minister.

So far, the U.N. has said it has received notification only from South Africa.

Rights groups often accuse Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, of abuses including a clampdown on political opponents. The next presidential election is in December.

Officials with other top African critics of the court, including Uganda and Kenya, have said in recent days they have not yet decided whether to leave the ICC as well. Uganda said it will be a "hot topic" at an African Union meeting in January.

Published: Thu, Oct 27, 2016