Local media reports are suggesting Namibia is considering withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC). If these reports prove accurate, then the country may find itself following in unsavoury footsteps and keeping company at odds with its history, democratic traditions, and sense of justice.
On Monday, November 23, media quoted Information Minister Tjekero Tweya as stating at a post-cabinet meeting that the international relations ministry had been asked to look into the matter, following the stance taken by ruling party Swapo to withdraw from the ICC. No date was mentioned.
While the ICC remains a deeply flawed institution that has a case to answer in regard to its prosecution criteria and apparent Africa bias, and while Namibia has every right to review its membership and make new decisions regarding its participation in the institution, two issues are concerning: 1) the timing and 2) the total lack of engagement with the ICC to rectify or deal with the problems.
It appears that Namibia is merely following the pack in the wake of the recent furore over South Africa’s refusal to honour its international legal (not to mention moral) obligations and arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, whom the ICC accuses of the not inconsiderable crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and mass murder.
If Namibia has real concerns and real issues with the ICC then it should approach the court, talk about it, demand changes, ask for answers to key questions, and seek above all to implement a system somewhere to protect the people of Africa from their often abusive and murderous leaders.
Walking away from the ICC with meek excuses and repeated platitudes – while pointing to alternative African-based institutions even less effective than the ICC – does not hold water. There was no walking away from the fight for justice and liberation in Namibia and no wobble in the solidarity with its oppressed people until freedom was achieved.
So why would Namibia consider abandoning the people of Darfur and ignoring their plight under the oppressive and murderous Bashir regime in the name of some twisted notion of solidarity with African leaders, no matter what their crimes?
Namibia obviously considered the matter of the ICC very carefully when it opted, without arm twisting, to sign the Treaty of Rome in 2002. Since that time it has had numerous opportunities to enter into a bilateral or multilateral discussion with the ICC at the member states forums to amend, redirect, question, or otherwise engage the ICC on its concerns.
The debate over the prosecutions of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, obviously played a role, but it seems that the refusal by most African countries and the African Union (AU) to implement the international arrest warrant for Mr Bashir has been the catalyst for the movement to withdraw from the ICC.
Sadly South Africa, another beneficiary of strong international pressure in its fight to secure the freedom of its people, played a leading role in the denial of justice to the oppressed people of Sudan and set the example to others to follow. South Africa went further than the denial of its international obligations: it defied its own courts, its own laws, and its own constitution.
Even worse, it denied the moral legacy its true leaders had bequeathed at the dawn of its democracy. Namibia would do well to avoid such company as well as the dubious company of other statesmen pushing to leave the ICC.
One is Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – in power for 30 years by some fair but mostly foul means, and no stranger to repression and defiance of the rule of law. Another is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose sense of justice and democracy requires no explanation.
If the media reports of Namibia’s plans to quit the ICC are correct then perhaps President Hage Geingob and his cabinet should consider whether or not that would help in any way the oppressed people of Africa and their legitimate quests for freedom and justice.
The question is not whether African leaders are being singled out by the ICC. The question is whether African leaders have a case to answer and whether there is any mechanism more effective and efficient than the ICC – warts, imperfections and all. The African alternatives have proved significantly worse, but if that is to be the answer, let us see some action and see Mr Bashir and other accused brought before our African court.
The fight for justice and the plight of millions in Swaziland, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Western Sahara, Libya and elsewhere may not have been recognised much less rectified by the ICC, but to remove even that imperfect remedy will help no-one – least of all the Africans still oppressed by Africans.
Namibia should think carefully, act courageously, and if necessary assume some leadership in this debate, rather than blindly follow the lead of the leaderless into the pit of moral darkness. Namibia is better than that.