ICC Trial Of Laurent Gbagbo Rekindles Western Justice Argument

The Western Justice argument against the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been on and off for many years now and the current trial of ex-President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, has started it up again.

Although its main champions are African leaders who could be said to have a vested interest in steering peoples perceptions of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a negative direction , a number of standby observers have also taken part in the back and forth commentaries over the years. The argument simply portrays the International Criminal Court as being skewed in its zeal to prosecute African cases. It in essence projects that the ICC is focused on only the pursuance and ‘persecution’ of African leaders.

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) began functions on 1st July 2002, the same day that the Rome Statue (a multilateral treaty which serves as its foundation and governing document) entered into force. It is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands. Its jurisdiction lies in prosecution of individuals for international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It can only exercise this jurisdiction when certain stringent conditions are met, such as; when national courts are either unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals or when cases are referred to it by the United Nations Security Council or individual states. There are currently 123 states party to the Rome Statute and therefore members of the ICC.

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The ICC’s case history may play a very important part in ascribing any relevance to this argument. With investigations open in ten situations spread across Uganda, Central African Republic I and II, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dafur, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Sudan and Georgia along with preliminary examinations in seven matters in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nigeria, Guinea, Palestine and Ukraine, bringing the total number of African investigations to 10, the accusers have a lot of mud on hand to sling.


In 2013, shortly after the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa was concluded, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared that the ICC was going after Africans because of their race, effectively insinuating that the ICC was racist. That was merely a left-handed blow in the more common place accusations that the ICC acts as the judicial arm of foreign powers.

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Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, speaking on behalf of the African Union in November says that the creation of the ICC “was strongly backed by Africa”, which now considers it “no longer a tribunal for all,”. The AU’s stand may be based on the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been wanted by the ICC since 2009 for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, whom the ICC ordered arrested with the African Union publicly opposing his arrest on grounds of immunity as a head of state.

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Most recently, Babacar Ba, who heads a judicial forum in Senegal, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) “It leaves me a bit puzzled to see former African leaders dragged before the ICC,” he continues “It’s as if we Africans are incompetent to decide the law or lack the resources to judge our own people,” insisting that rather than try Laurent Gbagbo at the ICC “we could’ve set up Extraordinary African Chambers as we did for Hissene Habre,” .

The ICC prosecutor, who is herself an African disagreed with this negative perceptions of the ICC, stating clearly in November; “All the cases we have, with the exception of Kenya, Sudan and Libya, were initiated on the request of African states”.


In all this trailing of who said what, it is important to remember that though not every case we view as important is subjected to the ICC’s thorough scrutiny, there is no case currently in their docket that should not be there and while Babacar Ba’s argument for the view of Africa’s competence does hold a lot of water, we should not undermine the ICC’s effort to pursue justice, until such a time as we have proved to the International community that we can indeed handle our own business.

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