Challenges for International Criminal Justice in Africa and the Role of Civil Society

Authors Elise Keppler

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Associate Director, International Justice Programme, Human Rights Watch
Source: Acta Juridica, 2016, p. 66 – 94


Since 2009, international criminal justice has faced unprecedented challenges in Africa. With the first arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for grave crimes committed in Darfur, a vocal minority of African leaders worked intensively to undermine the Court and weaken its legitimacy. With the election in 2013 of then ICC suspect Uhuru Kenyatta as President of Kenya, and then ICC suspect William Ruto as Vice-President of Kenya, attacks on the ICC from some African leaders, mobilised by Kenyan officials, leapt to new heights. In response to the backlash against the ICC, a number of African civil society organisations and international organisations with a presence in Africa have worked together to combat attacks on the court and to promote support for justice for grave crimes. These efforts by civil society organisations represent a crucial form of engagement on international criminal justice outside the court room. This paper offers a practitioner’s perspective on group activism to combat the backlash against the ICC in Africa, with reflections on its contributions and areas for further collaboration. While the effects of these efforts are difficult to assess quantitatively, there are indications that they have helped to offer a counterweight to the backlash by setting out a marker on important issues of principle, such as the irrelevance of official position in holding perpetrators of grave crimes to account; stigmatising Al-Bashir as a suspected war criminal; promoting a more nuanced picture of Africa’s relationship with the ICC; and bolstering efforts by African governments and officials who remain more quietly supportive of the ICC.