African leaders have backed a “strategy of collective withdrawal” from the International Criminal Court (ICC), but it came with unspecified reservations, an African Union official said on Wednesday after this week’s African Union summit.
The official did not give details about the strategy or the reservations, but it highlights broad antipathy towards the court among Africans who feel the ICC unfairly targets them.
However, the resolution is non-binding, with Nigeria and Senegal opposing a withdrawal.
South Africa and Burundi have already decided to withdraw, accusing the ICC of undermining their sovereignty and unfairly targeting Africans.
The ICC denies the allegation, insisting it is pursuing justice for victims of war crimes in Africa.
Almost a third of the ICC’s 124 members are African, and a withdrawal by a large number of them would cripple a court that has yet to fulfill hopes that it would ensure perpetrators of war crimes and genocide never go unpunished.
The ICC, which is 15 years old this year, has only ever charged Africans, including the presidents of Kenya and Sudan, although it has procedures open at earlier stages dealing with crimes in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America.
The summit proposed a co-ordinated withdrawal unless the ICC was reformed. It included a call for “regionalization” of international law, a reference to proposals for an African war crimes court.
Part of the resolution also said the AU would hold talks with the UN Security Council to push for the ICC to be reformed.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the court on charges of genocide in Darfur, was at the summit.
In 2015, a South African court criticised President Jacob Zuma’s government for failing to arrest Mr Bashir when he attended an AU meeting in the main city, Johannesburg.
The government later announced that it was withdrawing from the ICC because it did not want to execute arrest warrants which would lead to “regime change”.
A total of 34 African states are signatories to the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC.