UNITED NATIONS, May 29 – The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor hit back at critics on Tuesday, a day after the African Union accused the tribunal of racism.
Fatou Bensouda said the critics were defending “perpetrators” of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The prosecutor did not mention any particular group. But her comments came only a day after an African Union summit said the ICC was targeting the continent on the basis of race.
“We all know who the voices are,” Bensouda told a meeting at United Nations headquarters when asked by an African diplomat about “voices” questioning ICC tactics.
“The voices are those who are trying to protect the perpetrators of these crimes. They are not the voices who are supporting the victims of these crimes,” said Bensouda, who is from Gambia.
The ICC is currently facing mounting diplomatic pressure over charges of crimes against humanity filed against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto linked to political unrest in 2008 when neither were in office.
An African Union summit on Monday called for the ICC charges to be halted. Kenya has asked the UN Security Council to “terminate” the case.
“We should not take what ICC is doing to turn it on its head,” Bensouda said at the UN meeting on enforced disappearances organized by France and Argentina.
“The true victims of the crimes are the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, not those who perpetrate them. And now we see that that those voices, what they are all trying to do is protect those who perpetrate the crimes.”
“I think this is an insult to the victims,” she added.
The voices are those who are trying to protect the perpetrators of these crimes. They are not the voices who are supporting the victims of these crimes – Bensouda.
“I think this should not be happening and anybody who is concerned about addressing crimes of this nature – against the thousands and thousands and thousands of victims, African victims – should be concerned about what is happening right now,” she told the UN meeting.
Bensouda vowed that the ICC would “continue to be independent, to continue to be impartial, to apply the law strictly without any political or other considerations.”
African governments often express bitterness that all ICC investigations target the continent.
But nearly all of the eight investigations – from Uganda to Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali – were referred by the African countries themselves. Forty-three African countries have signed the ICC’s founding Rome Statute and 34 have ratified it. This makes Africa the most heavily represented region in the court membership.
Tiina Intelmann, president of the 122-country assembly of ICC member states, acknowledged that the perceived “Africa-only” focus of investigations has created difficulties for the court in dealings with African states.
“Let us not forget, however, that the current focus on the African situations also means a focus on African victims,” Intelmann said in a commentary.
A trust fund set up by the ICC statute has helped about 80,000 victims of “atrocity crimes.”
“It is fair to say that without the activities of that fund, all those African victims would have received little or no assistance at all,” Intelmann added.