(Johannesburg) - A network of African civil society and international organizations today called upon African Union (AU) states to use the AU's upcoming session about the International Criminal Court (ICC) to promote the court's ability to prosecute the world's worst crimes fairly and effectively.
The AU session on the ICC is scheduled to take place November 3 to 6 in Addis Ababa. The AU decided at its July summit meeting that the AU Commission should convene a meeting on the ICC, inviting members that are states parties to the court as well as those that have not joined. The stated purpose of the meeting is to prepare for the Review Conference on the ICC, scheduled for May 2010 in Kampala.
"Governments that oppose the ICC can be expected to try to use the AU meeting to undercut the court's ability to ensure justice for African and other victims," said Aloysius Toe of Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy in Liberia.
At its July meeting, the AU decided that member states should not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, contrary to the obligations of African states that are parties to the court. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in March for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
"African states that are parties to the ICC need to remain steadfast to the court's fundamental principles of fairness, independence, and impartiality," said Mohammed Ndifuna of the Human Rights Network in Uganda.
Groups across Africa - including in Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uganda - have urged their governments to support a fair and effective ICC at the November meeting.
"The ICC is not without shortcomings, but the court remains one of the most important checks against unbridled impunity on the African continent," said Georges Kapiamba of the Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Civil society efforts follow a statement signed by more than 160 groups from more than 30 African countries calling on nations that have joined the ICC to reaffirm their commitment to the court and their obligation to cooperate with it following the AU decision that states should not cooperate in arresting al-Bashir.
"African states should stand behind the ICC as a crucial court of last resort," said Oby Nwankwo of Nigeria's Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre.