Your Excellency,

As you meet for your summit in Libya, we write to ask you to address a few of Africa's most pressing human rights concerns-security in Somalia, accountability for crimes in Chad, and support for the International Criminal Court.

The African Union's ongoing effort to contribute to stability in Somalia through the deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an extremely challenging undertaking. Since the end of 2006, the conflict in Somalia has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, generated war crimes and massive human rights abuses, and contributed to a humanitarian catastrophe. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) under President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is under intense and unrelenting military assault by Al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups. AMISOM troops have regularly come under attack by forces who display few qualms about using civilians as shields or using weapons indiscriminately. AMISOM faces a daunting task in fulfilling its mandate to provide protection for the TFG without engaging in the abuses that characterize the conflict into which AMISOM is increasingly drawn.

AU troops have kept humanitarian aid flowing through the port of Mogadishu, an accomplishment that has probably saved countless Somali lives. And AMISOM has often showed remarkable restraint in the face of attacks that show no respect for international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports, however, that AMISOM troops have displayed serious lapses in discipline, including firing indiscriminately at civilians. We urge you to ensure that such conduct is not repeated and is effectively addressed.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the AU and its member states:

  • Urge the UN Security Council to set up a commission of inquiry to map out the worst human rights abuses in Somalia and lay the factual groundwork for future, concrete accountability processes.
  • Work to ensure that donor assistance to Somalia's security forces is matched by robust mechanisms to vet personnel and remove those implicated in serious human rights abuses; demand accountability where serious abuses do occur; and monitor and report on human rights abuses impartially.
  • Ensure that all credible allegations of abuse by AMISOM personnel are thoroughly and impartially investigated and, where appropriate, hold those responsible to account. The first step in this direction would be to finalize and publish the results of the AU's investigation into the February 2, 2009 incident in Mogadishu, where AMISOM troops were alleged to have fired indiscriminately at civilians.
  • Condemn violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by government forces as clearly as abuses committed by insurgent forces in Somalia.

Human Rights Watch also remains concerned about the case of the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, who stands accused of crimes against humanity. We seek your constructive engagement in this case.

As you will recall, in July 2006 the AU mandated Senegal to prosecute Habré "on behalf of Africa" and asked the AU chairperson "to provide Senegal with the necessary assistance for the effective conduct of the trial." Three years later, Senegal has failed even to begin proceedings. Some claim that the delay is simply the result of a failure to furnish Senegal with the required resources. The evidence suggests otherwise, as the European Union, Chad, and numerous non-African countries (but not the AU) have offered Senegal assistance and are still waiting for a credible budget from Senegal. The Habré case offers a clear opportunity to demonstrate Africa's capacity and will to deal speedily with crimes and violations of international law committed in Africa. We urge the AU to encourage Senegal to move proceedings forward and offer Senegal concrete assistance.

The AU's commitment to accountability is at the heart of its founding document, the Constitutive Act, which sets forth its objectives and principles. African states were a driving force behind the creation of the International Criminal Court and more than half of AU member states recognize the crucial role of the ICC, as demonstrated by their own membership in the court, making Africa the largest regional grouping of ICC states parties.

At the June 8-9, 2009 meeting convened by the AU in Addis Ababa to discuss the court, most of the African states parties reiterated their commitment to upholding their Rome Statute obligations. African civil society groups and leaders, in statements signed at conferences in Banjul, Cape Town, and Addis Ababa, also expressed strong support for the ICC to provide justice when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

When ICC judges issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier this year for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, several African non-states parties claimed the move was "anti-African." Some African officials have suggested that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africans, noting that the court's first situations under investigation are from Africa. However, three out of four of these situations were voluntarily referred by the states where the crimes were committed: Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. The fourth, Darfur, was referred to the court by the UN Security Council. The most recent case of ICC action involves the killing of AU peacekeepers from four African countries in Sudan, a war crime.

As the African Group of Legal/ICC Experts recently stated, "The Court has not taken up any situation on its own motion. All of the situations before the Court reflect the will of sovereign states or of the Security Council."

The reality that justice unfolds on an uneven international landscape has generated genuine frustration. This is a landscape that needs to change, so that the leaders of the world's most powerful states as well those from smaller, weaker states are subject to the reach of law for the worst crimes under international law. However, denying justice to some victims because redress is not possible for all cultivates, rather than combats, the culture of impunity. We need more justice, not less.

The ICC makes decisions about its investigations on a variety of factors, including whether it has jurisdiction. Some of the most egregious crimes perpetrated around the world since 2002 have been committed in states that are not parties to the court and are thus outside the court's authority. At the same time, Human Rights Watch believes, where justified by the evidence, the ICC prosecutor should exercise his statutory authority to begin an investigation, regardless of state referral.

We urge the AU summit to reaffirm its welcome commitment to securing justice by building on the consensus reached by many AU members in Addis on June 8-9 in relation to the International Criminal Court. Moreover, we urge the summit to avoid any outcome that would undermine the integrity of the court. Such an outcome would call into question the AU's commitment to fighting impunity. 

In addition, we advocate enhanced communication and cooperation between the AU and the court, which the AU has already begun to implement. Human Rights Watch asks the AU to support or encourage the establishment of an ICC liaison office in Addis Ababa to strengthen institutional contact and negotiate a cooperation framework between the ICC and the AU. We have been encouraging the ICC to take similar measures in other parts of the world.

We thank you for attending to these concerns and look forward to our continuing dialogue with you on securing peace and justice for Africans who have been victims of the worst crimes in violation of international law.

Sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon
Africa Director