In a massive victory for victims of mass atrocities and the rule of law, The Gambia's new president kept his promise to reverse his predecessor's steps to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Confirmed by the UN Secretary-General on 16 February, the international community and civil society are celebrating the move.
Last week the UN confirmed that The Gambia had officially notified the UN treaty office of the withdrawal of its prior notification of ICC withdrawal, sparking positive reactions across the international community. The Gambia had formally notified the UN chief of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute in November last year, but President Adama Barrow has kept his promise to reverse the ICC withdrawal decision made by his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh.
Assembly of States Parties President Sidiki Kaba welcomed Gambia’s change of position:
“This important decision signals the renewed commitment of the new authorities of The Gambia to the ICC, and to the shared values of all States Parties, of prosecuting the most serious crimes that shock the conscience of humanity,” said President Kaba.
President Kaba invited all States Parties to continue their support of the Rome Statute system and to encourage other States to ratify the treaty in order to achieve universality as soon as possible.
“I am convinced that the continued support of the international community and the cooperation of States remain necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the ICC,” the President stated.
A statement on behalf of UN chief António Guterres also applauded the decision:
According to the statement, Mr. Guterres “welcomes that the Gambia will remain a State Party to the International Criminal Court’s founding instrument [...and...] remains confident that States Parties will continue to further strengthen the Court through a constructive dialogue.”
The statement further noted that over the past two decades, the world has made decisive strides towards building a truly global system of international criminal justice, with the ICC as its centrepiece. It added that the Gambia, like so many other African countries, played a major role in the negotiations leading to the adoption of the Rome Statute and was among its first signatories.
The European Union added:
"With this decision President Adama Barrow honours a pledge made during the election campaign. As demonstrated at the occasion of Commissioner Neven Mimica's visit to Banjul last week, the European Union is mobilising important means to support the new government in The Gambia. The ICC embodies universal norms and values. The victims of international crimes deserve justice, wherever they live."
Clément Capo-Chichi, Africa regional coordinator, Coalition for the ICC, stated:
"As one of his first acts in office, President Barrow's notification to the U.N. secretary-general of The Gambia's decision to reverse withdrawal from the ICC is a crucial victory for victims of grave crimes and the rule of law," adding that "We urge South Africa and Burundi to follow The Gambia's lead in returning to the ICC fold and putting victims first."
Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch said:
"Gambia’s announcement that it would rejoin the International Criminal Court sent a strong message of support for the Court and victims of grave international crimes. Along with Burundi – and its soaring human rights violations in the past year – South Africa is now the outlier on ICC exit. Gambia's decision reflects the new government’s recognition of the important role that the Court plays. The ICC is the only permanent court that has the potential to offer redress to victims of the worst crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute."