Immunity for Crimes Committed by African Heads of State

By 8th August 2014 January 9th, 2017 Corruption, Human Rights, News, Rule of Law, Uncategorized

The BWL Rule of Law Team notes with ever increasing concern that at its Assembly in late June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, the African Union (“AU”) adopted the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (“the Second Protocol”) and called upon its member states to sign and ratify the treaty “as expeditiously as possible so as to enable [it] to enter into force.” [Click to see a copy of the relevant AU Decision] Readers will recall that the First Protocol for the establishment of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (“the ACJHR”) was adopted by the AU in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on 1st July 2008.

The ACJHR; the main purpose of which is to function as the principal judicial organ of the AU, is intended to have jurisdiction over both civil and criminal cases, including matters presently within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) in The Hague, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But unlike the ICC, it is intended that the ACJHR will also have jurisdiction over transnational crimes, such as money-laundering, human and drug trafficking, terrorism and piracy. The difficulty is that the ACJHR’s constituent treaty, as adopted and advanced by the AU, contains a clause granting immunity from prosecution to sitting heads of state.

Like many others, members of the BWL Rule of Law Team are troubled by the existence of the immunity, for it undermines fundamentally the Rule of Law principle that ‘no one is above the law’ and that ‘all are accountable to the law,’ including those individuals who represent the State’s guiding mind and will. Lee Marler, the barrister who leads the BWL Rule of Law Team, is quoted as saying that “one cannot help but wonder whether the suggested immunity from ACJHR prosecution for African Heads of State – which is indefensible – is as a result of the ICC’s indictments of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta.” Neil Macaulay, another senior member of the BWL Team, sees the merits of establishing the ACJHR, despite the overlapping jurisdiction of the ICC, but “is concerned that the existence of the immunity from prosecution will undermine from the very outset the Court’s credibility and may put international funding of the Court at risk.”

Steps to establish the ACJHR will not take place until 15 AU states have ratified the Court’s treaty. Until such time as the Court has the ability to prosecute all those responsible for atrocities and crimes within Africa, it is to be hoped that AU States will respect the Rule of Law and resist the AU’s call to ratify the treaty in its presently flawed state.

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