Africa must make international justice a reality for victims

Domestic responses remain Africa's best hope for criminal justice.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Some of the most horrific crimes known to mankind have taken place fairly recently in countries like Burundi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Zimbabwe, and many Africans continue to pay for a lack of justice with their lives, their futures and their basic human rights.

There can be no doubt that Africa must have justice for international crimes. What form this justice takes, and whether it is meted out in national, regional or international courts, is something the continent must decide and act upon. 

At an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) seminar in Addis Ababa this morning, representatives from the African Union (AU), the diplomatic community, various African states and civil society examined how international criminal justice can thrive in Africa. ‘The domestic system must take primacy. How can you ensure domestic systems that guarantee accountability? That must be the focus,’ said Professor Vincent Nmehielle, Legal Counsel and Director for Legal Affairs of the AU Commission.

He added that there is a tendency to oversimplify the African situation and the matter of immunity for heads of state. ‘Prosecuting heads of state has immense practical concerns for peace, security and stability.’

Jemima Njeri, a senior researcher at the ISS, agrees. ‘Africa cannot afford not to have international criminal justice, but there is more to this than debate around the International Criminal Court [ICC],’ she says. ‘For this reason, more needs to be done to rid the continent of impunity through domestic responses.’

Political barriers and other challenges continue to hinder accountability for international crimes – which include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet, Africa has come a long way through various initiatives.

Developments at the International Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda, Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, the proposed hybrid courts in states like South Sudan and Chad, and the protocol expanding the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights and domestic laws further show that there is still hope for international justice in Africa.

However, these are initiatives that need to be strengthened. If domestic responses are to achieve that, constructive engagement is needed between African states, the AU, the ICC and the global community.

‘We need to have real, sincere and serious dialogue about working together,’ says Dr Salah Hammad, Senior Human Rights Expert at the AU Department of Political Affairs. ‘The role of the ICC must be very clear as one that complements and supports national systems in Africa, to ensure it serves as a court of last resort, not first instance.’

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For more, talk to our experts:

Allan Ngari
[email protected] | +27 72 258 2897

Jemima Njeri
[email protected] | +27 83 234 6566

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