January 18, 2010
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—The Centre for Citizens’ Participation in the African Union (CCP-AU), in collaboration with many of its partners, namely the Institute for Security Studies, Oxfam International, TrustAfrica, the Open Society Initiative for East Africa and others, organised a dialogue on the current relationships between Africa and international justice institutions and the role that different stakeholders should play to promote peace and justice.
The discussion that took place on Monday 18/01/2010 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was attended by representatives of the African Union Commission, representatives of different African missions in Addis Ababa, members of the academia, the civil society and journalists.
The main objectives of the discussions, as explained by a CCP-AU representative, were to get views and opinions of African Union (AU) member states on the issues of peace, security and justice in Africa and to establish permanent contacts between members of the civil society, the African Union Commission and AU member states, three stakeholders who are very crucial to justice, peace and security in Africa.
Different speakers came back to the controversial principal of international jurisdiction and the role and work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Africa as well as its credibility when it comes to issuing indictments. It can be mentioned that the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan [the first time in its history to issue an arrest warrant for a sitting president], Omar el-Bashir, a decision that has aroused a lot of controversy, indicted some perpetrators of immense human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The ICC has also pending arrest warrants for criminals in Kenya and Guinea.
Another point of interest during the discussions was the proposed extension of the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to give it the mandate to handle criminal matters. According to one speaker, ‘The extension of the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights would change relations between Africa and international institutions such as the ICC as Africa has the biggest number of ratifications to the Rome Statute and it would diminish the responsibility of the world to Africa’. He adds that ‘The decision would not be timely, would be very costly to Africa and would cement the already alarming impunity in Africa as it gives an impression that Africa wants to be ready to handle many more mass atrocities’.
There was a general consensus, at least among members of the civil society, among other points, that:
- There is need for a strong ICC promoting human rights and justice in Africa,
- National justice systems need to be strengthened to deal with local matters,
- There is need to speed up a memorandum of understanding between the AU and the ICC,
- AU member states should take advance of this year of peace and security to ratify different charters and treaties that promote peace and security such as the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,
- There are many reservations on whether it would be a good, practical, affordable or even timely decision to enlarge the mandate of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
- and that we should not only be talking about prosecution of perpetrators, but also and most importantly about institutional reforms, reparation and compensation for victims as well as reconciliation among citizens of nations.
While the role and work of the ICC of promoting justice cannot be undermined, there are some concerns of manipulation of its international jurisdiction for political gains, not understanding its real mandate in some cases and the lack of a clear and practical collaboration between the AU and the ICC. Nonetheless, whether we want the ICC or national systems, the important thing for Africans is to have strong institutions that will no longer give room to massive violations of human rights.
The CCP-AU is a network of national, continental and international non governmental organisations that aims at a sustainable and significant engagement between civil society organisations and the African Union. It focuses its activities on peace and security, human rights, women’s rights, a peoples’ centred AU and on democracy and good governance.