By Human Rights Watch Press
Published November 18, 2013
African governments should reject special exemptions for sitting officials before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Speaking ahead of ICCâ€™s annual meeting, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), that will take place in The Hague, Netherlands November 20-28, 2013, human rights advocates have Called upon governments to Support the International Criminal Court at its Annual Meeting.
African Union said in October 2013 that the trials of Kenyaâ€™s President Uhuru Kenyatta and and Deputy President William Ruto–indicted before coming to office in 2013–should be suspended and that all sitting national leaders should receive immunity before international courts.
â€œImmunity for government leaders before the ICC is contrary to the basic principle that no one should be above the law,â€ said Georges Kapiamba, President of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice. â€œWe should not deny justice to the victims and their families because their tormentors hold high political positions.â€
The meetingâ€™s general debate and scheduled session on the impact of indicting sitting heads of state will offer African and other governments important opportunities to affirm support for the ICCâ€™s independent role in ensuring justice for the gravest crimes.
â€œHuman rights abuses by governments and armed groups remain one of the biggest challenges confronting people in Africa,â€ said George Kegoro, Executive Director at the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya. â€œIdeally, domestic courts will ensure justice for these crimes, but the ICC serves as a crucial court of last resort when they are unable or unwilling.â€
Some African leaders have taken the position that the ICC is targeting Kenya. In Kenya, where the authorities failed to respond adequately to post-election violence, the ICC prosecutorâ€™s office acted to open an investigation. In all other situations before the ICC, the situations were referred by the governments where the crimes took place or by the United Nations Security Council, as with Libya and Darfur, Sudan.
â€œThe ICC is far from perfect, but it is not targeting Africa,â€ said Angela Mudukuti, international criminal justice project lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. â€œThe majority of ICC investigations came about because African governments requested the ICCâ€™s involvement. These countries should work to dispel inaccurate information and to correct misperceptions about the court.â€
At the same time, there are double standards in the delivery of international justice that need to be addressed, the organizations said.
â€œThe ICCâ€™s reach should be improved, but justice should not be denied in Africa because it is not yet possible everywhere,â€ said Chinonye Obiagwu, national coordinator at Nigeriaâ€™s Legal Defense and Assistance Project. â€œICC members can demonstrate their commitment to victims by supporting prosecutions wherever the worst crimes are being committed.â€
African organisations and international organisations with a presence in Africa have on November 18, 2013 in South Africa released a document intended to promote common advocacy aims in advance of the ASP session.
The organisations involved include: Burundi Coalition for the ICC, Center for Democratic Development of Ghana, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law â€“ Sierra Leone, Coalition for the ICC, Congolese Association for Access to Justice, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, International Crime in Africa Programme of the Institute for Security Studies, Legal Defence and Assistance Project of Nigeria, Media Foundation for West Africa, NamRights in Namibia, Nigerian Coalition for the ICC, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Transformation Resource Centre of Lesotho.