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Rights Groups Call on AU to Stick With International Court

FILE - Jean-Pierre Bemba enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, March 21, 2016.

A coalition of human rights groups called on African Union leaders Thursday to abandon consideration of plans to urge withdrawal of its members from the International Criminal Court.

Last April, a committee convened within the AU recommended withdrawal from the ICC unless it meets three conditions, one of which was immunity from prosecution for heads of state and other senior officials.

The coalition, led by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said this call for immunity violates the African Union's Constitutive Act and goes against recent AU initiatives meant to stamp out corruption.

“AU efforts to undermine the only permanent criminal court for victims of atrocities are fundamentally at odds with the AU’s rejection of impunity, and with its decision to make 2016 as the AU’s year of human rights,” Stella Ndirangu of the Kenya section of International Commission of Jurists said in a statement.

The rights groups say that blanket immunity for heads of states has never been a feature of international courts and the decision to withdraw from the international court should be left up to each individual state.

Many people in Africa, including some African leaders, have argued that the ICC is biased against Africa, as thus far it has focused on Africa. Of its 10 active investigations, only one is outside Africa. Kenya’s government is among several in Africa that has considered leaving the ICC.

Representatives from the AU are set to meet with the United Nations Security Council on Friday to discuss the potential exit.