African Leaders’ Vote for Immunity Is Sending a Cynical Message

African leaders declard themselves immune to prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by the proposed African Court of Justice.

The move was made at last week’s African Union (AU) summit in Equatorial Guinea to alter the protocols of the proposed African Court of Justice (ACJ ) in order to offer immunity to all sitting heads of state and “high level officials.”

... African ... heads of state and top administrators cannot be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

In recent years, AU members have accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of disproportionately targeting Africans for prosecution, and the ACJ is intended in part to prove the continent can enforce justice and human rights on its own. Immunity essentially undermines that premise.

The meeting was capped by a rousing ovation for newly elected Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, whose government recently confirmed death sentences for 183 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.Though the AU often projects itself and is frequently reported as a singular voice, the vote reflected a concerted push on the part of a minority of leaders, two of whom have been charged by the ICC. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has been accused of fomenting ethnic violence that marred the 2007 elections, and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has been charged with orchestrating genocide in Darfur. Both angled to weaken the African court's ability to pursue heads of state...

Several others, including South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, both accused of orchestrating human rights violations — albeit not charged — would likely be heartened by the change in protocol. Ethiopia is said to have used its sway to help pass the provision.

The provision flies in the face of recent efforts in countries across the continent, says Relva. Several nations, including South Africa, Burkina Faso, and the Comoros have all passed laws clamping down on immunity for human rights violators.

... a cynical message to Africans ... The ACJ hasn’t even been created yet, ...

“Under conventional law, heads of state and heads of government do not enjoy immunity with regard to crimes at the international level,” said Relva.

Since its founding in 2002, the ICC has only prosecuted Africans, a fact often cited to explain the unease among some leaders, many of whom were initially the court’s strongest supporters. But of the eight cases it’s taken up, half have been referred by African countries themselves. The case against Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, for instance, was taken up on request from Uganda.

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