(Johannesburg) – African governments should provide leadership to build on important steps during 2015 to ensure justice for grave international crimes, African and international organizations said in a letter to African International Criminal Court (ICC) members that was released today.
African governments are meeting at the 25th summit of the African Union (AU), from June 7 to 15 in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The groups that signed the letter are among the most active partners of an informal group of African and international organizations based in more than a dozen African countries that seek to promote justice for serious crimes that violate international law.
“Progress in the case against Hissène Habré, Chad’s former president, and the surrender of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Dominic Ongwen to the ICC have been important developments this year, but justice is undermined by the lack of accountability for grave crimes committed in South Sudan and other conflict areas,” said Penny Mbabazi of Uganda’s Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.
While the majority of AU members are also members of the ICC, most of those countries lack domestic laws that fully incorporate the crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and cooperation with the ICC, as key pillars of justice, the groups said. Victims of serious crimes may feel betrayed when their government does not take steps to remedy the harm done to them.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the AU rotating chair for 2015, threatened in January to push for African ICC members to withdraw from the court at the June summit. In the days leading up to the summit, Malawi officials told reporters that it would not consider withdrawal. Botswana has consistently stressed its support for the ICC when the court has come under attack at the AU.
“More states should follow Malawi’s recent move to publicly oppose calls for ICC withdrawal and Botswana’s strong public backing of the ICC,” said Timothy Mtambo of Malawi’s Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation. “The ICC is a crucial court that should be supported and strengthened.”
The organizations called on African ICC members to:
- Enhance the capacity of the AU to respond to conflict situations to avoid international crimes and to facilitate accountability;
- Call for and support credible national proceedings to hold to account those responsible for serious crimes, such as in the Central African Republic;
- Reconsider and revise their stand on immunity for sitting heads of state and government, as well as for senior government officials brought before the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights; and
- Promote victims’ participation in domestic proceedings on grave crimes.