News / Africa

Civil Society Groups: Support Justice for Gravest Crimes

International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo  (file photo)
International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo (file photo)

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Joe DeCapua

Civil society groups are urging African nations to show support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the AU summit in Equatorial Guinea.

Some 125 organizations in more than 25 African countries issued a report Monday called Observations and Recommendations on the ICC. It calls on African member countries of the ICC to “support justice for the gravest crimes.”

The AU, however, has called for a delay in the ICC prosecution of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It has also called for a delay of an investigation into Kenya’s post-election violence. That has stirred some controversy. Now, the ICC has issued arrest warrants for another African leader, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

ICC and Africa

“I think African civil society takes very seriously the responsibility that many of us feel to protect victims of serious international crimes and to drive an initiative to promote accountability and an end for impunity for these crimes,” said Anton du Plessis of the International Crime in Africa Program at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

African civil society has voiced its support for the ICC on previous occasions, as well.

“It’s not the ICC itself that these African civil society groups are supporting. It’s just a continental effort to end impunity for these crimes that ravage the continent so regularly and in such devastating ways,” he said.

Accountability

The report, in part, gives the groups a voice in calling for justice.

Du Plessis said, “The question of accountability for these crimes is not something which is completely controlled by the governments themselves. That civil society do own some of the space and are very interested in making sure that African governments stick to the commitments, which they themselves proclaim as part of the African Union, particularly Article 4H of the AU Constitutive Act.”

In part, that article calls for “respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance” and “respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities.”

AU

“I think when we speak of Africa or the AU we need to remember that African states were at the forefront of creating the International Criminal Court. Currently, Africa is the biggest regional block represented on the ICC, with, I think, 32 African states as parties to the treaty. And African countries, many of them, have fought their own human rights struggles and have set very important precedents internationally as human rights defenders,” he said.

Du Plessis said there may be a perception of an AU “backlash” against the court.

“Of course, Africa has been on the receiving end of international criminal justice with seven situations currently before the ICC at this stage,” he said.

African governments themselves had asked the ICC to act in most of those cases, for example in the DRC and Uganda.  But the arrest warrants for President al-Bashir have caused some tension between the AU and the international community. Reaction regarding Mr. Gadhafi is just beginning.

Justice can move slowly

“Libya and Sudan are interesting situations because both of those were actually referred to the International Criminal Court by the U.N. Security Council because they were considered by the council to threats to international peace and security,” he said.

In both cases, the ICC wants to prosecute sitting heads of state.

“That is essentially where serious issues of sovereignty come into play and also the traditional notions of heads of state immunity are questioned. So, these two decisions by the Security Council have created a lot of disquiet in Africa, particularly on the role of the International Criminal Court,” he said.

Du Plessis does not expect a quick solution to these matters.

“Justice for these crimes does take time and don’t think we should have too many expectations that this will be handled in a matter of months. I think that’s one thing to recognize. The second one is that international criminal justice plays itself out in an incredibly complex and ever changing political environment. And that political environment needs sensitive navigation,” he said.

The indictment of President al-Bashir in 2002, he said, is an example of that.

“We just never know where things are going to be down the line after the arrest warrant today was issued for Ghadafi, but as international criminal justice has shown in the cases of others…that justice is patient and it’s vitally important that we don’t try and rush the process too much at this stage, he said.

The civil society report also calls on African ICC states “to ensure the election at the end of 2011 of the most qualified candidate as the next ICC prosecutor through a fair and merit-based process.”

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