The Citizen (Tanzania)
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Dar es Salaam. Tanzania has said it has no plan to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC) but will join the crusade pushing for sweeping reforms of the tribunal.

In an exclusive interview with The Citizen yesterday, Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister Augustine Mahiga said the repudiation of the ICC meant it now more than ever needed to be « more just and relevant to African countries ».

« The fact that some African countries are re-assessing their relationship and re-considering their membership should serve as a wake-up call for the global judicial body, » he said.

In recent months, five African countries who were all full members of the ICC Kenya, Sudan, South Africa, Burundi and Gambia have signalled their intention to pull out, following complaints that ICC prosecutions focused excessively on the African continent.

Burundian and Kenyan lawmakers have already voted in favour of withdrawing from the court in what has become a major blow to efforts to establish a global legal order for pursuing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Tanzania is among the 34 countries that signed and ratified the Rome Statute voluntarily with the aim of helping end impunity in the world by bringing to justice its citizens or those of other countries accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. About 124 countries worldwide have ratified the Statute. They are known as State Parties.

Yesterday, the ICC, which is based in The Hague, announced that it would now also focus on crimes against children.

Dr Mahiga reiterated that Tanzania would remain a State Party, but wanted radical changes in the Court.

He said one of the areas that needed to be looked at is the powers of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer people to the ICC. This has been a source of concern because more than half of the permanent members of the council have not ratified the Rome Statute.

« The role of the UNSC has also led to outcries over the unfair targeting of Africans, » said Dr Mahiga, who is a former permanent representative of Tanzania to the UN. « Criminals from the developed world are left to go. »

He said the ICC prosecutor’s powers to decide on who needed to be prosecuted, as it was the case in Kenya following the 2007 post-election violence, should be checked to root out ulterior motives.

The minister noted that a number of countries, including Tanzania and Senegal, felt that there was need to reform the whole ICC system, especially with regards to the filing of new cases and how they are prosecuted.

But speaking on Wednesday at the annual assembly in The Hague of state parties signed up to the Rome Statute, Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, said she deplored recent withdrawals from the Rome Statute.

« Any act that may undermine the global movement towards greater accountability for atrocity crimes and a ruled-based international order in this new century is surely when objectively viewed regrettable, » she said.

This view has been shared by many across the continent, who have appealed to African countries to stop withdrawing from the ICC, but seek reforms.

In South Africa, the opposition has vowed to fight the government’s bid to quit the tribunal.

Mr Deus Kibamba, executive director of the Tanzania Constitution Forum (TCF), told The Citizen the ICC needed to be more transparent but warned African countries were shooting themselves in the foot by withdrawing from the court.

He also suggested that to avoid a possible domino effect in the withdrawals, there was need to make the ICC membership compulsory.

The Tanzanian activist called for the decentralisation of ICC operations by creating regional or continental registries or branches that would be mandated to probe, prosecute and issue rulings on all criminal charges traditionally pursued by the judicial body instead of relying on The Hague.