Making policies work

Why some African countries turned their back on the International Criminal Court

In a series of stories for our Annual Report 2016, we highlight some of our ongoing and past projects. Read our story on the International Criminal Court and Africa below or download the whole report here. 

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In 2016, several African countries indicated their intention to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). This tide was reversed, however, after South Africa and the Gambia withdrew their notifications to the United Nations, leaving Burundi as the only country currently seeking withdrawal. But what is behind all this in the first place?

African Union member states such as Senegal, Niger, the Republic of the Congo and Uganda were instrumental in creating the Rome Statute, which is the treaty establishing the ICC. However, tensions between the African Union and ICC have built up over the past ten years. At the heart of the disagreement is a tangle of issues including immunity and procedural matters and the failure of the Court to broaden its membership.

Although the tensions have subsided for now, the events of 2016 are symptomatic of strains in the international justice system. The challenge for the future will be to build a fair system that is equipped to bring justice to the victims of conflicts in Africa.

What ECDPM does

To meaningfully contribute to the debates around this contentious issue, it is crucial to understand the complexities of the events that played out in 2016. We therefore took a closer look at the perspectives of the different African countries that moved to withdraw from the court. Why exactly did they consider opting out? We also looked at the role played by the African Union in the recent events, and analysed various alternatives for Africa to take over the role of the ICC on a continental, regional or national level.

Highlights of 2016

We published a paper analysing the different African perspectives on the ICC and explored how justice-related issues are linked to African governance initiatives. That paper was much read and discussed, and became a relevant and timely contribution to the debates.

We shared the findings of our analysis on Africa and the ICC at the Conference of the States Party to the Rome Statute, attended by civil society representatives, government officials from African and European countries, and African Union delegates.

Our analysis was picked up by Newsweek, which has a readership of more than 15 million people worldwide.

Learn more

Want to know more about our work on relations between Africa and the ICC or have thoughts to add to the debate? Visit or get in touch with Philomena Apiko, Luckystar Miyandazi or Faten Aggad via

Interested in learning more about our activities and their impact in 2016? Download the full 2016 Annual Report here.

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Photo courtesy of United Nations Photo via Flickr.