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African Leaders Told to Renew Commitment to Justice on 'Africa Day'

Monday is 'Africa Day', a day set aside in 1963 to celebrate the founding of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) which later became the African Union (AU) in 2002.

According to a news release from the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the theme for this year’s Africa Day celebration is “Towards a United, Peaceful and Prosperous Africa”.

Brigitte Suhr, director of regional programs at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court said African leaders must renew their commitment to justice if there is to be peace and prosperity on the continent.

“For the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, we believe that for a prosperous and stable Africa, justice must be an important component of that future...and we want the African governments to take the opportunity of Africa Day today to renew their commitment to justice, nationally and internationally,” she said.

Suhr said many African governments who had been supportive of the ICC for years have now begun questioning their membership in the court, especially since the ICC’s announcement of arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

“In the aftermath of the ICC having authorized arrest warrant for President Bashir of Sudan, some African countries are under pressure to withdraw their support from the court. And we’re watching those developments very carefully, and are working with our counterparts nationally all over Africa to shore up the government support so that they don’t waver at this critical time,” she said.

Some Africans have criticized the ICC as a Western tool designed to subjugate only African leaders. But Suhr said such allegations are baseless.

“We would point to two responses to the allegations that the ICC is over-focusing on Africa. One would be that three of the four situations that the court is currently investigating were referred to it by African states themselves. Uganda, CAR (Central African Republic) and the Democratic Republic of Congo, each referred their own situation to the court because they felt they could not handle those cases nationally,” she said.

In addition Suhr said the ICC is currently considering opening investigations in Colombia, Georgia and Afghanistan.

She said African countries have a long history of supporting the ICC and played a leading role in the court’s establishment.

“There’s been a 20-year history and negotiation process to create the court, and African states were very heavily involved from the beginning. And at the Rome Conference itself which is where the final treaty was negotiated and approved, 47 African states participated. Subsequently, 30 of them became formal members of the court. And that’s the highest number of any other region in the world,” Suhr said.

Suhr also said Africa is highly represented at the ICC as five of the court’s current judges are from Africa.