The Zambian government’s decision to consult citizens on whether the country should leave or remain in the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sparked debate in the southern African nation.
In February, President Edgar Lungu, upon his return from the 29th African Union (AU) Summit in Ethiopia, said the government will consult citizens on whether the country should remain or leave the international court. This followed a resolution adopted by African leaders at the summit where they called for a collective withdrawal from the ICC, although the decision is non-binding after accusing the court of only targeting African leaders. Last month, Minister of Justice Given Lubinda announced that the government was to hold public hearings on the matter in 30 districts in all 10 provinces. The sittings, which started on March 27, will end on May 31 while a national symposium will be held on April 11 and 12 to come up with a final document to be presented to the AU Summit in June.
However, some stakeholders, including opposition figures have reacted differently to the decision to hold the hearings and accused the government of having a stance on the matter, calling on the government to halt the meetings.They believe that it was not necessary for the government to hold the public hearings as it is a sheer waste of resources which could have been channeled to other developmental areas. “It is prudent for citizens to shun the consultations which have already gobbled up huge chunks of public money. Citizens are urged to stay away from those consultations as something stinking and dangerous is in the air,” said Nason Msoni, an opposition leader from the All People’s Congress (APC) party.
The opposition leader said it does not make sense to waste money on an exercise whose outcome has already been decided. His views have been supported by the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), an umbrella body of women organizations in the country. “Given the over-stretched treasury, it is irresponsible for the government to spend on a non-issue. On behalf of the women movement, we believe there are more pressing issues such as completing the education and health infrastructure that the government should focus on other than chasing the wind on issues to do with the ICC,” the organization said. Hakainde Hichilema, the country’s leading opposition leader, has since threatened to take legal action if Zambia follows through with government’s alleged plans to withdraw from the ICC. He told reporters during a press briefing at his residence on Monday that his party will not allow the Zambian leader to withdraw the country from the ICC, adding that he has already made consultations with the international community on the matter.
The government, on the other hand has expressed shock that some stakeholders in the country want to curtail the process of citizens participating in the process on the country’s future position on the ICC. The justice minister said the government decided to consult citizens in keeping with the tenets of democracy and dismissed reports that it has already taken a position on the matter. The government has since stated that it will not halt the proceedings, adding that, like other African countries, the country was required to submit a report to the AU during the June summit. The government has since expressed happiness over the interest shown by citizens in the public hearings held so far, saying the exercise has received overwhelming response.
The government has since been backed by the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) over its decision to consult citizens on the matter. The organization said citizens needed to be consulted on matters of public concern as democracy demands the involvement of people in governance and national affairs. The Zambian Voice, a local civic organization has also supported the government’s decision to consult citizens on the ICC membership, according to its executive director Chilufya Tayali. The ICC was formally established in 2002 after the adoption of the Rome Statute of the Court in 1998. As of December 3, 2016, a total of 124 countries had ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute. Zambia signed the Rome Statute on February 17, 1998 and ratified it on November 13, 2002.