June 4, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) and some 34 African civil society organizations have called on the African Union (AU) to unequivocally express support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to ensure that such support is reflected in the decisions, declarations, and resolutions of the Assembly of the AU.
The call was made ahead of the 25th African Union Summit, which will take place in South Africa from 7 to 15 June 2015.
The CSOs have called on African states to reconsider and revise their stand on immunities for sitting heads of state and government along with senior government officials brought before the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
“The immunities clause approved during the 23rd AU summit undermines the wider commitment to fight impunity as expressed in Articles 4(h) and (o) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union,” a joint release by the rights groups says.
The CSOs encouraged African states that have yet to do so, to reflect on adopting the ICC implementing legislation at the domestic level and providing victims of international crimes the opportunity to participate in legal proceedings, including in the form of reparative rights.
“Victims of serious crimes should have the opportunity to be involved in the judicial process in a manner that is consistent with their status and rights as victims and internationally recognised standards of fairness,” the release says.
They further called on African governments to enhance the capacity of AU mechanisms to respond to conflict situations in a manner that seeks to pre-empt the occurrence of international crimes and facilitate accountability within transitional justice frameworks in the aftermath of such conflicts.
They observed that thecause of justice continues to face challenges in Africa and that International crimes are still being committed in African states – such as South Sudan – with little or no accountability.
“A large majority of African ICC states parties lack legislation that fully incorporates genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and cooperation with the International Criminal Court in domestic law. We encourage African states to strengthen the principle of complementarity by calling for and supporting credible national proceedings as a means to bridging the impunity gap in relevant situations, such as the Central African Republic,” states the CSOs. “We call on your government to express support for the ICC at the AU summit and to commit to cooperating with the ICC.”
They also noted that the ICC is a crucial court that can be strengthened and should be supported, adding “Minister Kaba, as President of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties, could serve as an important resource in such efforts.”
The African CSOs expressed that they are aware that many African ICC members support the ICC and regularly express that support at the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.
“However, very few governments express that support in AU discussions where the ICC comes under attack. This creates significant risks for the ICC’s legitimacy around the world given that Africa enjoys the largest regional representation in the ICC’s membership, as well as a considerable percentage of judges and staff of the court.”
The release adds: “Protection of witnesses inside and outside of the courtroom is also needed to ensure effective proceedings at the national level. We call upon all states to establish witness protection legislation, mechanisms, and programs, to ensure that witnesses are adequately protected before, during, and after the investigation and adjudication of international crimes.”
It concluded that, “Victims of serious crimes committed in violation of international law may feel further victimised by the injustice when the state does not take steps to remedy the harm caused to them.”