NAIROBI — Gambia has announced that it will withdraw from the International Criminal Court, the third African country to declare its departure in just two weeks.
Explaining the country’s decision, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said on state television late Tuesday that the global judicial body was really “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.”
Last week, Burundi announced its intention to leave the court, and on Friday South Africa did the same. There are worries that this could be the beginning of an African exodus from the court, a dwindling membership on a continent with a long list of conflicts and human rights abuses.
Experts believe Kenya, Namibia and Uganda could be among the next countries to leave the court.
For years, many African nations have claimed that the ICC, which was established in 2002, is biased against the continent’s leaders. Nine of its 10 current investigations involve African countries.
The decision of three successive countries to leave the court could mark a watershed moment for an institution whose legitimacy is derived largely from its members’ consent. No country had previously withdrawn from the ICC.
The ICC has denied any allegations of bias, explaining that it undertakes many of its investigations at the request of the U.N. Security Council and countries in which alleged crimes have occurred.
Gambia's own human rights record has frequently come under scrutiny, particularly the government’s decision this year to crack down on some political opponents of President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the country since taking over in a coup in 1994.
In July, opposition leader Ousainou Darboe and 18 others were sentenced to three years in prison for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration. In April, another opposition leader, Solo Sandeng, was allegedly beaten to death by members of the Gambian security services after being arrested for leading a demonstration in favor of electoral reform.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s prosecutor, is herself from Gambia, where she once served as attorney general and minister of justice. At a conference in Ghana in March, she explained that the international court was pursuing cases without regard to geography, but highlighted the problems in Africa that warranted its attention.
“The African continent still suffers from too many wars and conflicts, all of which result in too many atrocities,” she said. “Accountability for those who commit these atrocities is yet to be fully and effectively implemented.”