'Forget the ICC, We Are with America': The Gambia Has Become the First African Signatory to the ICC to Give American Citizens Immunity from Prosecution by the International Criminal Court. (around Africa: The Gambia)

Article excerpt

Despite having ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, The Gambia has made controversial history by becoming the first African country to throw its whole weight behind America in its tug-of-war with the ICC, a contradiction that President Yahya Jammeh's government has not bothered to explain despite calls to do so.

Mauritania was the first African country to sign the deal with America but Mauritania has not ratified the ICC treaty. The Gambia is the first to have gone the full hog and ratified the treaty.

The protracted palaver between the USA and the ICC gravitates around the question of exempting American citizens from prosecution by the ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The new system of international justice, which came into effect on 1 July 2002 with the creation of the ICC, opposes any attempt by America to give its citizens elitist status by keeping them outside the ICC's jurisdiction.

Under the terms of the deal, The Gambia pledged not to extradite US soldiers for prosecution to The Hague-based ICC. America has concluded similar deals with 12 other countries since the ICC came into being.

They are Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, East Timor, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Palau, Romania, Tajikistan and Uzbekisran. But only five of the 13 countries-The Gambia, Honduras, Tajikistan, Romania and the Marshall Islands--have ratified the Treaty of Rome that created the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. Washington's headache is that the court may be used as a political weapon against its citizens, and has warned that it may withdraw military aid to countries that refuse to sign its 'Article 98" deals. Since 1 July, US diplomats around the world have been racing to negotiate as many "Article 98" agreements as possible.

Baboucar Blaise Jagne, The Gambia's foreign minister, signed the deal in October with the US ambassador in Banjul, Jackson McDonnell, in high secrecy in order not to attract the attention of local and international critics such as Amnesty International, which has petitioned more than 60 countries not to back America's attempt to "pollute and undermine the international system of justice by their elitist ideas". …