The remaining seven countries in which the ICC is involved -- through investigations, indictments, or ongoing trials -- present different manifestations of the same problem. The governments of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali all asked for the ICC's involvement, responding to the court's overtures to prosecute crimes that the countries themselves were unwilling or unable to pursue. The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, requested the court's involvement in Sudan and Libya, where genuine domestic accountability for the victims of mass atrocities was nowhere to be seen. (A Libyan court is currently trying Saif al-Qaddafi in the town of Zintan, amid concerns about its fitness and Qaddafi's civil rights.)
A more detailed snapshot of the justice deficit in these countries helps illustrate further why the ICC is necessary. The World Justice Project's 2012-2013 Rule of Law Index places Sub-Saharan Africa at the bottom of its global list. A recent report on the rule of law in the DRC explains that, with "near-humiliating working conditions... [c]orruption, bribery and denial of justice are common practices within the judiciary." In scores of interviews I have conducted with Darfuri survivors of atrocities either perpetrated or facilitated by the Sudanese government, after the basic necessities of safety, food, and shelter, their demands are for justice. But they don't believe it can come from the Sudanese judiciary while the current government of ICC indictee Omar al-Bashir remains in power.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Bensouda may have put it best: "What offends me the most when I hear criticisms about this so-called Africa bias," she said in an interview last year, "is how quick we are to focus on the words and propaganda of a few powerful, influential individuals, and to forget about the millions of anonymous people who suffer from their crimes." This week, over 160 international groups and civil society organizations across Africa have sought to give voice to those anonymous people with a letter to African foreign ministers, urging them not to withdraw from the ICC. "As organizations working within Africa, some on behalf of or alongside victims of international crimes, we see every day the importance of ensuring access to justice," the letter states.
Justice, however, is not something that survivors of atrocities should have to travel to a foreign land to access.
The court's all-African line-up is not an ICC problem; it is an African problem, for which there is an African solution. That solution -- doing the hard work of strengthening of domestic accountability mechanisms in nations across the continent -- is what African leaders should be discussing this weekend. Unfortunately, they will instead rail against, and possibly abandon, the only recourse for justice that African victims of major international crimes currently have.