Implications of the African Union's immunity for African leaders

Granting immunity from prosecution to heads of state and other senior officials in Africa is short sighted, and at odds with the AU's Constitutive Act

African heads of state recently adopted an amended protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, which contains a provision that grants immunity from prosecution to serving African Union (AU) heads of state and other senior officials. This paper looks at the real motivation behind this provision and its context. The amendment should be seen against the backdrop of the AU’s open hostility to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) investigations currently focusing on Africa. The immunity provision is short-sighted, at odds with the AU’s own Constitutive Act, does not sit with certain tenets of international law and has drawn much criticism from civil society and human-rights groups. But, in the end, it probably serves as little more than a symbolic fist shake in the face of the ICC.

About the author

Max du Plessis (B.Iuris SA, LLB Natal, LLM Cambridge, PhD University of KwaZulu-Natal) is an associate professor at the University of KwaZulu- Natal and a practising advocate in South Africa. He is also an associate tenant at Doughty Street Chambers, London, and a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies.

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