A proposal to give immunity to sitting government leaders before Africa’s regional court would be a major setback for justice for grave crimes, African organizations from 19 countries have said.
The Liberian NGO, Rights and Rice Foundation, as well as international groups with presence in Africa, stated their position in a letter to African governments recently.
The letter came as Justice ministers and attorney generals of African Union (AU) member countries were scheduled to meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on May 15 and16, 2014, to consider a draft protocol to expand the authority of the African Court on Justice and Human Rights.
The expansion seeks to include criminal jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, according to a release from the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and quoted by the Liberia News Agency.
A proposal providing immunity for Heads of state and senior government officials from prosecution for such crimes is being considered as part of the amended protocol.
“Exempting sitting Heads of state and senior government officials from African Court jurisdiction on grave crimes would shield the powerful from the reach of the law,” SulemanaBraimah, MFWA Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa said.
“This is fundamentally at odds with the AU Constitutive Act, which rejects impunity,” he added.
The consideration of the draft protocol comes at a time of intense opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by some African leaders, particularly in the face of the ICC’s proceedings against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were later elected as Kenya’s President and Vice President.
“Impunity remains one of the biggest threats to human rights protection in Africa,” Thuso Ramabolu, human rights officer at Lesotho’s Transformation Resource Centre intimated.
“It’s crucial for people responsible for mass atrocities to face justice, irrespective of their official positions. Immunity poses grave alarm and would create an incentive to hold on to power indefinitely,” he insisted.
International conventions, including the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 recognize the imperative of accountability for grave crimes irrespective of the title or position of those responsible, the release said. It noted that immunity with respect to serious crimes is also barred before some domestic courts in Africa.