ICC withdrawal: Who will safeguard the ‘piece of paper’?

ICC withdrawal: Who will safeguard the ‘piece of paper’?

At the outset, the DTA of Namibia strongly condemns the statement by H.E. President Hage Geingob that the “fundamental law of our Sovereign and Independent Republic” is “just a piece of paper.” A remark like this coming from any ordinary citizen is already very worrying, but when it comes from the President of the Republic who has sworn to safeguard the Namibian Constitution, then it becomes even more disturbing.

As this comes at a time when it is being mooted that Namibia should withdraw its ICC membership, it is indeed a very alarming set of circumstances.

Whilst we cherish the peace and stability in Namibia, and play a significant part in retaining that, it is also true that in the unlikely and unfortunate situation where a sitting President makes himself guilty of gross violations of human rights and fundamental rights enshrined in the Namibian Constitution, then there must be avenues available to hold such person to account.

In the absence of local or regional remedies, the ICC remains the only current existing platform.

It is trite knowledge that Art. 31(2) and Art. 31(3) of the Namibian Constitution bar local courts from trying a sitting President for criminal offences committed during his/her tenure in office. This prohibition extends to former Presidents as well, thereby leaving no local recourse or remedy.

The DTA does not purport to say that the ICC is faultless and that reform within the ICC is not needed. Indeed, we believe that significant reform of both the ICC and the U.N. is needed, so that African interests are properly articulated and protected.

Whenever a member of the SWAPO Party publicly criticizes internal party affairs or contemplates leaving the Party, very often it is said that people must not go outside the Party and criticise from outside, but must seek internal reform.

Why is it that when it comes to the ICC, the very same SWAPO Party’s stance is of withdrawal and criticism from outside, and not to seek internal reform?

Namibia is very fond of signing treaties and ascending to membership of international statutory bodies, but we must appreciate that signing these documents also places an important responsibility on us to ensure the proper functioning of these bodies.

Neither the AU nor SADC have, as yet, shown sufficient political will to suggest that a sub-continental or continental alternative to the ICC is in the pipeline. The SADC Tribunal can effectively already be discarded as a failed experiment.

The DTA of Namibia believes that until such time as local and regional channels and mechanisms exist, then it would be premature to withdraw from the ICC. Moreover, we believe that ascribing to these bodies also places an obligation on us to ensure their proper functioning by actively seeking reforms when and where necessary.

We cannot shirk this responsibility, as the current alternative would be to leave a big chastening hole which would imply that the Constitution is indeed “just a piece of paper”, as violations of it by sitting and former Presidents will go unpunished. A closer look at the African countries that are eager to leave or have withdrawn ICC membership, already points to a disquieting trend for the African Continent and her people.

The DTA believes Namibia should rather strongly and robustly pursue reforms within the ICC, and not take action that could potentially see Namibia paved onto the path of a Banana Republic.

• McHenry Venaani is president of the DTA , Namibia’s official opposition party.

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