AU Summit decision a backward step for international justice
The decision by the Assembly of the African Union (AU) to grant sitting African leaders immunity from prosecution for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is a backward step in the fight against impunity and a let down for victims of serious violations of human rights, Amnesty International said.
An official communiqué released yesterday confirmed that African heads of state and government meeting at the AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea on 26 and 27 June had voted to adopt an amendment granting incumbent government leaders and other senior officials immunity from prosecution in the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
“At a time when the African continent is struggling to ensure that there is accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, it is impossible justify this decision which undermines the integrity of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, even before it becomes operational,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy.
“We are deeply disappointed that African heads of state and government have failed to provide the leadership needed to ensure justice for victims of crimes under international law, opting instead to shield themselves and future generations and leaders from prosecution for serious abuses.”
Irrespective of the AU’s decision, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will retain the right to investigate serving African heads of state and government for such crimes.
“This decision does not fit with the AU’s own Constitutive Act and the other international human rights obligations and commitments of its member states,” said Netsanet Belay.
“Those responsible for serious human rights violations must face justice, irrespective of their official positions and the adoption of this amendment is a backward step in the long battle for accountability and human rights in Africa.”
The amendment to Article 46A bis of the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights reads: “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.”
Amnesty International has been calling for the amended Article 46A bis to be replaced with a provision such as that contained in Article 27 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Such a provision would deny immunity to heads of state and government or any other senior government official, if they are suspected of having committed and/or been complicit in the commission of a serious crime under international law, including acts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offences contained in the Draft Protocol on Amendments to the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
The African Court of Justice and Human Rights will merge the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the Court of Justice of the African Union and will have expanded criminal jurisdiction over international crimes.
Ahead of the AU Summit Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, sent an open letter to Heads of State and Government of the African Union asking them to reject the amendment.
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