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Gambia Says It Will Leave The 'International Caucasian Court'

The headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Mike Corder
The headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Gambia says it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court in The Hague — the third nation to do so this month. The small West African country alleges that the court is biased against Africans.

On Oct. 12, Burundi, whose president is being investigated by the ICC, voted to withdraw from the tribunal. About a week later, South Africa announced it had submitted a written notice to the U.N. saying it intended to leave the ICC. South Africa previously failed to honor an ICC arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted in 2009 on charges that he committed war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

The ICC has never opened an investigation concerning Gambia.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has reported on the country's "lamentable human rights record." Amnesty International accuses Gambia's government of "prevalent and routine" torture of detainees in its justice system.

Following Gambia's announcement it would be leaving the tribunal, Ofeibea reported for our Newscast unit:

"[Gambian] Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, justifies his country's decision to abandon the ICC claiming the International Criminal Court is an "International Caucasian Court," for persecuting and humiliating people of color, especially African leaders.

"The minister accuses the world's only permanent war crimes court of ignoring the war crimes of western nations. The ICC is facing allegations of pursuing an imperialist agenda in Africa, home to the lion's share of its investigations."

As The Two-Way has reported, every person tried by the ICC since the treaty creating it was adopted in 1998 has been African.

Other war crimes trials have been carried out by ad hoc tribunals created after a specific conflict, such as those created for Yugoslavia and Cambodia, or for the Nuremberg trials conducted after World War II.

Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba — who was found guilty in March of war crimes and crimes against humanity for rapes and murders committed in the Central African Republic — was the most recent African leader convicted by the ICC. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the department is "concerned about this decision" by African countries to withdraw support for the court. But, "I don't want to get ahead of events, and I don't think we're at the point now where we can call it a trend," Kirby told NPR. "We do think that the ICC has made valuable contributions in service of accountability in a number of situations, and we hope other governments would share that analysis."

The U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.