A total of 130 groups across the African continent have called on African members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a letter published on Monday to affirm their support for the court at an extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reports.
The meeting is scheduled for 11-12 October 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The groups, from 34 countries, said African countries should support the ICC as a crucial court of last resort, including for its current cases on crimes committed during Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-2008.
The relationship between ICC and some African governments has faced renewed challenges as the Kenya cases have progressed, ISS quoted the groups as saying.
This has led to increased accusations that the court is targeting Africa, and questions over whether some African ICC members may be considering withdrawing from the ICC’s treaty, the Rome Statute.
Any withdrawal from the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and to reject impunity, as reflected in article 4 of the AU’s Constitutive Act, the organisations said.
The work and functioning of the ICC should not be beyond scrutiny and improvement, but withdrawal would risk grave consequences of undermining justice in Africa.
“Southern Africa was at the forefront of pressing for a permanent international criminal court,” said Angela Mudukuti, International Criminal Justice Programme Project Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
“South Africa and other Southern Africa Development Community members should press the AU to work to expand the reach of justice, not cripple it.”
In southern Africa, Botswana has been a vocal proponent of the ICC in the face of recent attacks on the court, but many other African ICC members have remained silent.
However, in its September statement to the UN General Assembly, Lesotho expressed strong support for the ICC, and it should reaffirm that support at the Addis summit.
Mauritius also adopted legislation to implement the ICC’s treaty domestically in 2011, putting it in a good position to express strong support for the court at the summit.
African governments have sought out the ICC to try grave crimes committed on their territories, and Africans are among the highest-level ICC officials as well as serving as judges.
‘Five African states asked the ICC to investigate crimes committed in their countries – Cote d’Ivoire , Uganda, Central African Republic, Mali, and Democratic Republic of Congo,’ said Georges Kapiamba, president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice.
But it remains to be seen whether the leaders of these countries – many of whom could land at the same court for allegedly overseeing grave violations of human rights in their home countries – could heed the groups’s advice and continue supporting the Netherlands-based tribunal.
View the letter.
(Issued by ISS, additional reports and final editing by I.S. da Silva)
Photo: The ICC headquarters in the Hague, Netherlands