African leaders under fire for seeking ICC immunity

Attempts by African leaders to secure immunity from prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been slammed as nothing more than an attempt to protect a handful of the continent’s most powerful people.

The proposal was put forward during a special summit called by the African Union (AU), to discuss the continent’s continued relationship with the Hague based court. This is amid heightened tensions between the court and particularly Kenya, with that nation’s President and Deputy President both being charged by the ICC with crimes against humanity.

Several nations in the 54-member AU have accused the ICC of bias against Africa, and have demanded that the court drop its cases against Kenya’s leadership. African states have also repeatedly ignored ICC orders to hand over the indicted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

The most recent African state to support calls for a mass withdrawal from the ICC is Zimbabwe, with Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa saying last week that Africans must “stand up and stamp their authority” against the court.

A widely rumoured mass ‘walkout’ of the 34 African members of the ICC, who all signed the Rome Statute that formed the court in 2002, did not materialise during the weekend’s special meeting.

Instead, a blanket amnesty for sitting heads of state was proposed, along with a unanimous decision to ask the UN Security Council to defer the Kenyan trials for as long as the two men remain in office.

Daniel Bekele, the Executive Director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said on Monday that the proposal was “extremely disappointing,” and “very telling of the hypocrisy in the AU.”

“It is an extraordinarily disappointing situation that the AU had a summit on this issue, when what would have warranted a summit are the serious challenges facing the continent, including poverty, economic development and respect for human rights,” Bekele said.

He added: “So it is a surprise that the priority for the heads of state is to protect a handful of powerful men on the continent wanting to protect themselves from justice.”

Bekele welcomed what he said was a “lack of appetite” for a full withdrawal of African nations from the ICC. But he added that a call for a blanket amnesty for sitting heads of state was a serious concern.

“It doesn’t make any difference in the eyes of law, whether you look at it in the moral or legal principle, there is no difference between a war lord and a sitting head of state committing serious crimes, like crimes against humanity and genocide. So everyone should be equally held to account,” Bekele said.

He continued: “If the AU is to live up to its core values, then (it) should be upholding the rule of law, ending impunity, protecting the integrity of judicial process. But what we have seen is contrary to such values.”

The amnesty proposal preceded the decision by a leading governance watchdog group to once again not award its annual prize for achievement in African leadership.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation on Monday released its latest Governance Index, which measures advances in governance across the continent. Launched in 2006, the index is released annually and ranks African states according to governance gains.

This year Zimbabwe is once again in the bottom 10 nations on the index, ranking 47th out of 52 countries. According to the index, Zimbabwe’s governance score remains below the continental average for Africa as well as the regional average for Southern Africa.

The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership meanwhile was not awarded, for the fourth time since the prize was established in 2007. The prize, which is worth US$5 million over 10 years and US$200,000 annually for life thereafter, is only eligible for former African heads of state. – SW Radio Africa

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