July 8, 2016
Activists from across Africa have launched a campaign to pressurise the African Union member states to change their stance on withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This comes ahead of the AU summit that is expected to start in Kigali, Rwanda this weekend. In a video, which was endorsed by 21 civil society organisations, various activists make the case for the ICC.
The organisations include the Southern African Litigation Centre which took the South African government to court for failing to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who was charged by the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and who is considered a fugitive from justice.
“The reasons why we supported the establishment of a permanent court as Africa have not changed,” Stella Ndirangu of the International Commission of Jurists in Kenya said on the video. “The only thing that has changed is that now leaders are being held to account.”
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were charged by the ICC for the violence after Kenya’s elections in 2007 to 2008, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
“To say that the ICC is targeting Africa, I think, is a misrepresentation of the situation,” said Angela Mudukuti of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “It’s more Africans making use of the court they helped to create.”
“The big clash [these days] is over African leaders, the powerful few, who really want impunity for themselves, versus the vast majority, in fact all of the victims of Africa’s continent, who want justice every day,” said Ibrahim Tommy of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law-Sierra Leone.
The AU in 2016 gave its Open-Ended Committee of African Ministers on the ICC a mandate to develop a “comprehensive strategy” on the ICC.
This included considering the withdrawal of AU member countries from the court. The African National Congress has already indicated that it wanted the South African government to withdraw, but a tabling of a bill that would give effect to this was recently stalled.
The committee in April said the ICC should meet three conditions in order for the AU not to continue with its call for members to withdraw from the court, which included immunity from prosecution for sitting heads of state. This was unlikely to happen, however.
The AU might consider the open-ended committee’s assessments and recommendations at this month’s summit, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The backlash by African states started when Kenyatta was charged, but intensified when there were calls for al-Bashir to be arrested when he attended the AU summit in Johannesburg a year ago.
The South African government, however, failed to do so, arguing that he had a special immunity because he was attending an AU summit. SA, however, had an obligation to arrest him as a signatory to the Rome Statute.
Not all AU member states are opposed to the ICC. Botswana, for one, has pronounced in favour of the court.
Meanwhile the AU has taken steps to set up its own African court and in 2015, adopted a protocol to give the court authority to prosecute grave crimes.
It also grants immunity for sitting heads of states and other senior government officials. That protocol will need 15 ratifications before coming into force, but has yet to be ratified by any country, according to a statement by the civil society organisations.
Culled from NEWS24