SALC and 140 Groups Speak Out and Urge African States to Reject Immunity for Leaders

Salc : Staff Writer

We, the undersigned African civil society organisations and international organisations with a presence in Africa working on human rights and criminal justice, join together to express our deep dismay and opposition to the recent adoption by African Union (AU) member heads of states, at the 23rd AU summit, of an amendment to the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights that would preclude the African Court from trying sitting heads of state and government, as well as certain other senior state officials, for serious crimes committed in violation of international law.

The adopted Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights is the first legal instrument to extend a regional court’s authority to criminal jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The protocol also contains eleven additional crimes and notably has an independent defense office. The expanded role poses significant challenges to the African Court and we stress the importance of providing it with adequate resources to ensure the effective implementation of all mandates.

We are nevertheless deeply dismayed that Article 46A bis of the amendments provides immunity to sitting heads of state and government, and certain other senior state officials from trial for serious crimes. It states: “No charges shall be commenced or continued before the Court against any serving African Union Head of State or Government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity, or other senior state officials based on their functions, during their tenure of office.”

The immunity provision is a regrettable departure from the spirit and letter of the AU’s Constitutive Act, which promotes respect for human rights and the rejection of impunity under article 4 of the act.

Victims cannot be protected if those at the highest levels of power are above the law. Immunity indirectly legitimizes the chronic disease of impunity, as it takes away the prospect of securing accountability before the African Court for persons who may be responsible for serious crimes. Victims cannot realize meaningful justice for violations suffered if those who may be responsible for grave crimes enjoy exemption from the effect and force of the law.

Civil society organisations oppose granting immunity to any person in relation to serious crimes committed in violation of international law. The statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Extraordinary African Chambers within the courts of Senegal, and other international and internationalized courts provide that official position of any accused person shall not relieve them of criminal responsibility.

We recall that African governments played an active role in the establishment of the ICC to help ensure justice for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and African states were among the founding ratifiers of the ICC’s Rome Statute. The majority of African Union members are now state parties to the ICC. In ascribing to the letter and the spirit of the Rome Statute, these states have signaled their dedication to defend the rights of victims, to reject exemptions for accused based on their official position, and to ensure that the perpetrators of the most serious crimes known to humankind, whoever they might be, are brought to justice.

Other international conventions, including the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949, all recognize the imperative of accountability for individuals, including state officials, who have committed serious crimes and do not provide immunity for individuals in relation to these crimes. Article IV of the Genocide Convention expressly states that individuals who have committed genocide “shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

We welcome that some African states like Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and South Africa exclude immunity for sitting officials with respect to serious crimes consistent with their national laws.

Granting immunity to African heads of states and government, and certain senior government officials before the African Court in some circumstances risks giving an open license for those in these positions to perpetrate crimes. It further risks encouraging those accused of the crimes to cling to their positions in order to avoid facing the law, thereby entrenching dictatorships.

The immunity provision of the adopted protocol thus goes against the very essence of promoting human rights, peace and stability, and is a setback to advances made towards democracy and the rule of law in Africa. African leaders should ultimately be assessed on the basis of their efforts to enhance the values of respect for human rights and justice for the victims of serious crimes – not by efforts at nurturing the culture of impunity at the expense of the rights of their citizens.

The recent decision to allow immunity for serious crimes under international law on the basis of official capacity before the regional court thus is retrogressive and undesirable. Instead of retreating from important achievements to limit impunity, advance the rule of law, and promote respect for human rights, we call upon African governments to remain steadfast in supporting justice for victims of the worst crimes.

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, appeal to African states to reaffirm their commitments in international and regional instruments to support human rights, accountability and access to justice by rejecting immunity for serious crimes under international law.

This text was drafted by Malawi’s Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, and benefitted from input from several African civil society organisations and international organisations with a presence in Africa.

  1. Media Institute of Southern Africa, with offices in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
    2. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Benin
    3. Amnesty International, Benin
    4. Benin Coalition for the ICC, Benin
    5. Coalition for the International Criminal Court, with offices in Benin and Democratic Republic of Congo
    6. Ditshwanelo – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, Botswana
    7. Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, Burkina Faso
    8. Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme, Burkina Faso
    9. Amnesty International, Burkina Faso
    10. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Burundi
    11. Association Burundaise Pour la Promotion des Droits Humains et des Personnes Detenues (APRODH), Burundi
    12. Burundi Coalition for the ICC, Burundi
    13. Centre Des Mères, Burundi
    14. Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile, Burundi
    15. Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l’Homme, Burundi
    16. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Cameroon
    17. Maison des Droits de l’Homme du Cameroun, Cameroon
    18. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Central African Republic
    19. Ligue Centrafricaine des Droits de l’Homme, Central African Republic
    20. Mission Internationale de Soutien à la Centrafrique, Central African Republic
    21. Mouvement pour la Defense des Droits et d’Action Humanitaire, Central African Republic
    22. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Chad
    23. Ligue Tchadienne des Droits de l’Homme, Chad
    24. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Côte d’Ivoire
    25. Actions pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme, Côte d’Ivoire
    26. Ivorian Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Côte d’Ivoire
    27. Ligue Ivoirienne des Droits de l’Homme, Côte d’Ivoire
    28. Mon Beau Village, Côte d’Ivoire
    29. Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains, Côte d’Ivoire
    30. Organisation des Femmes Actives, Côte d’Ivoire
    31. Organisation Nationale pour l’enfant, la Femme, et la Famille, Côte d’Ivoire
    32. Réseau Equitas Côte d’Ivoire, Côte d’Ivoire
    33. Réseau Paix et Sécurité des Femmes dans l’Espace Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest Côte d’Ivoire, Côte d’Ivoire
    34. SOS Exclusion, Côte d’Ivoire
    35. Aide-Vision, ASBL, Democratic Republic of Congo
    36. Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda, Democratic Republic of Congo
    37. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Democratic Republic of Congo
    38. Carrefour Juridique Culturel, Democratic Republic of Congo
    39. Congolese Coalition for the ICC, Democratic Republic of Congo
    40. Collectif des ONG pour la Promotion de la Justice, Democratic Republic of Congo
    41. Congolese Association for Access to Justice, Democratic Republic of Congo
    42. Fondation Congolaise pour la Promotion des Droits humains et la Paix, Democratic Republic of Congo
    43. Groupe Lotus, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    44. Human Rights Watch, with offices in Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa
    45. Ligue des Electeurs, Democratic Republic of the Congo
    46. Ligue pour la Promotion et le Développement Integral de la Femme et de l’Enfant, Democratic Republic of Congo
    47. Parliamentarians for Global Action, with offices in Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda
    48. Human Rights Concern, Eritrea
    49. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Ghana
    50. Africa Legal Aid, with offices in Ghana and South Africa
    51. Amnesty International, Ghana
    52. Media Foundation for West Africa, Ghana
    53. West Africa Journalists Association, with offices in Ghana and Senegal
    54. Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of 28 September, Guinea
    55. Amnesty International, Kenya
    56. International Center for Policy and Conflict, Kenya
    57. International Commission of Jurists, Kenya
    58. Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya
    59. Kenyans For Peace with Truth and Justice, Kenya
    60. Transformation Resource Center, Lesotho
    61. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Liberia
    62. Centre for Media Studies and Peace Building, Liberia
    63. Concerned Christian Community, Liberia
    64. Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Liberia
    65. NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development, Liberia
    66. Rights and Rice Foundation, Liberia
    67. Rural Empowerment Foundation, Liberia
    68. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Madagascar
    69. Centre for Development of People, Malawi
    70. Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi
    71. Church and Society Programme-CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, Malawi
    72. Citizen for Justice, Malawi
    73. Civic and Political Space Platform, Malawi
    74. Human Rights Consultative Committee, Malawi
    75. Malawian Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, Malawi
    76. National Integrity Platform, Malawi
    77. Pan African Civic Education Network, Malawi
    78. Association Malienne des Droits de l’Homme, Mali
    79. Coalition Malienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humans du Mali, Mali
    80. Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme, Mauritania
    81. SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative, Mauritius
    82. NamRights, Namibia
    83. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Niger
    84. Association Nigérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, Niger
    85. Center for Democracy and Development, Nigeria
    86. Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre, Nigeria
    87. Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Nigeria
    88. Coalition of Eastern NGOs, Nigeria
    89. International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, Nigeria
    90. National Coalition on Affirmative Action, Nigeria
    91. West African Bar Association, Nigeria
    92. Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center, Nigeria
    93. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Republic of the Congo
    94. Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme, Republic of the Congo
    95. Association pour la Défense des Droits des Personnes et des Libertés Publiques, Rwanda
    96. Human Rights First Rwanda Association, Rwanda
    97. Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs, Rwanda
    98. Unissons Nous pour la Promotion des Batwa, Rwanda
    99. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Senegal
    100. Amnesty International, Senegal
    101. Ligue Sénégalaise des Droits Humains, Senegal
    102. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, Senegal
    103. Amnesty International, Sierra Leone
    104. Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, Sierra Leone
    105. Coalition for Justice and Accountability, Sierra Leone
    106. Network Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, Sierra Leone
    107. Sierra Leone Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Sierra Leone
    108. Allamagan Human Rights & Relief Advancement Organization, Somalia
    109. Africa Programme of International Commission of Jurists, South Africa
    110. Human Rights Institute of South Africa, South Africa
    111. International Crime in Africa Programme, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa
    112. Lawyers for Human Rights, South Africa
    113. Masifundise Development Trust, South Africa
    114. South Africa Forum for International Solidarity, South Africa
    115. Southern Africa Litigation Centre, South Africa
    116. South Sudanese Law Society, South Sudan
    117. Darfur Bar Association, Sudan
    118. Asylum Access, Tanzania
    119. Centre for Widows and Children Assistance, Tanzania
    120. Children Education Society, Tanzania
    121. Tanzania Youth Vision Association, Tanzania
    122. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, Togo
    123. Amnesty International, Togo
    124. Advocates for Public International Law Uganda, Uganda
    125. African Center For Justice and Peace Studies, Uganda
    126. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Uganda
    127. Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Uganda
    128. Human Rights Network, Uganda
    129. Human Rights Network for Journalists, Uganda
    130. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network, Uganda
    131. Platform for Social Justice, Uganda
    132. Regional Associates for Community Initiatives, Uganda
    133. Spectrum Uganda Initiatives Inc., Uganda
    134. Uganda Victims Foundation, Uganda
    135. Ugandan Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Uganda
    136. Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, Uganda
    137. Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Zambia
    138. Counselling Services Unit, Zimbabwe
    139. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe
    140. Women of Zimbabwe Arise, Zimbabwe
    141. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe