ZIMBABWE is reluctant to ratify the Rome Statute because hardliners who have over the years thrived on violating human rights fear prosecutions by the International Criminal Court (ICC), says Education Minister David Coltart, a renowned lawyer.
Yet he says the question is not whether the country will ever subject itself to the jurisdiction of the ICC - but rather, when.
“Those responsible for crimes are fearful that ratification will bring prosecutions on their own heads,” Coltart told a Consultative Assembly of Parliamentarians for the ICC in Rome this week.
“But we have made significant progress along the road towards ratification and we are far closer to ratification now than we were in 2008.
“I think that Zimbabwe will eventually ratify but in our experience I think that there are lessons for us all,” he said.
President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since independence in 1980, has been accused together with his allies in Zanu PF of gross rights violations during his unbroken 32-year rule.
Many people say he should be held accountable for the killing of more than 20, 000 people in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions during a brutal military campaign codenamed Gukurahundi, which means “the early rains that wash away the chaff before the spring rains.”
Mugabe and his security apparatus, including the police and the military stand accused of unleashing violence in the 2008 run-off elections that killed hundreds of MDC supporters.
Coltart says while the violence has dramatically subsided, human rights breaches continue.
“There are ongoing human rights abuses, including the selective application of the law, massive corruption and tight control of the electronic media. The military looms large and constantly threaten that they will not accept any transfer of power away from Mugabe's party, Zanu PF.”
The ICC was formed to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Some 121 countries have subjected themselves to its jurisdiction, but counties like the United States, China and Russia have stayed away citing sovereignty. Of the 121 signatories, 33 are African nations.
Many African leaders, including Mugabe, accuse the ICC of targeting feeble Third World politicians while living Western rights violators to go scot free.
Former US president George Bush and British premier Tony Blair are often cited in such arguments for their role in the Iraqi war.
To dispel such criticism, Coltart said, the ICC should convince America to join it.
“We need to redouble our efforts to persuade our American friends in particular to ratify especially during the important window opened during President Obama's final term of office.
“Given President Obama's human rights credentials, it is hard to believe that he personally would be against ratification. I am under no illusions regarding the difficulty of persuading the American military of the need to ratify but I think that President Obama's final term presents us with a unique opportunity,” he added.