(Johannesburg) – Civil society groups from more than 30 African countries called on African Union (AU) member countries to ensure that the AU promotes justice for grave international crimes, in a letter to the foreign ministers of African Union member states which was made public by the groups today.

The letter was sent in advance of the 21st summit meeting of the African Union, at which it will celebrate 50 years since the establishment of its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity. The summit is scheduled for May 19 to 27, 2013, at the seat of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The groups noted that recent strain in the African Union’s relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) has created significant risks to ensuring victims of the gravest crimes and their families have access to redress. As a result, they said, “[m]uch more remains to be done to advance accountability. Cooperation between international, regional, and national levels is crucial to promote justice and peace.”

The letter was endorsed by 60 African civil society organizations and international organizations with a presence in Africa. The groups recognized a number of achievements by African Union members to promote justice on the continent, including supporting accountability for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Uganda.

The groups urged African Union members to press the AU to:

 

  • Take account of Africa’s support for the ICC and its role activating ICC involvement in AU countries. Thirty-four out of 54 African countries are ICC members and African countries brought most of the situations the ICC is considering before the court.

 

  • Take steps to strengthen domestic criminal justice systems to deal with international crimes. This is the best way to ensure victims have access to redress over the long term, while addressing AU concerns about holding perpetrators to account outside the continent.

 

  • Ensure that any expansion of the jurisdiction of the African Court advances justice by carefully considering the resource implications for an expanded mandate. This would include supporting the wide range of needs associated with a criminal jurisdiction, such as witness protection and fair trials for the accused.

 

  • Improve communications between the AU and the ICC. Both institutions have nuanced mandates, and more frequent information exchange could help advance dialogue and clarify misconceptions.