Africa does not offer, at the Pan-African level or regional level, a venue for bringing charges against human rights abusers. But national courts may try such cases or refer them to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
However, the AU does have a Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, based in Banjul, The Gambia. It investigates human rights complaints and reports its findings to heads of state and government.
Prince Mashele is a senior researcher at the South Africa Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. He says there are discussions about establishing a human rights court within the AU but says there are two obstacles: One is funding; the other “is [whether] the AU can reach an agreement on a situation where one of its members is said to have violated human rights…. Can the AU take a decision that means taking a head of state to court. It doesn’t look like it will be very easy.”
What the AU should do, according to Mashele, is entrench a culture of what he calls “constitutionalism,” which would encourage the adherence to the rule of law and respect of human rights within each member country. He says the AU should also strengthen its own institutions, which monitor and encourage good governance and the respect for human rights.
Like the AU, regional economic and political groupings also lack any mechanism for punishing human rights abuses. But there are attempts to encourage good governance and eliminate abuses in such collective efforts as NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and its voluntary initiative for reviewing the progress of individual countries in meeting these goals, the African Peer Review Mechanism.
Mashele says the recent arrest of former Liberian president Charles Taylor should serve as a lesson to African leaders, particularly those who have not been elected: “They should look at this case as an example that if that if they don’t change they are likely to go down the same route…. You cannot commit crime and get away with murder…. In the end, you will be punished. For me, that is a very important lesson.”