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Rights groups oppose immunity to leaders

13 May 2014, 15:24

Lagos - Human rights groups across the continent said the proposal to give immunity to sitting government leaders before Africa’s regional court would be a major setback for justice.

In a joint statement made available to our correspondent in Nigeria, about 20 human rights organisations said that exempting sitting heads of state and senior government officials from African Court jurisdiction on grave crimes would shield the powerful from the reach of the law.

They said that the irrelevance of official capacity before international criminal courts has become entrenched in international law since the post-World War II trials before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

They added that immunity with respect to serious crimes is also barred before some domestic courts in Africa.

Stella Ndirangu, programme manager at the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists was quoted as saying that even domestic law in Kenya and South Africa barred immunity for sitting officials before domestic courts on grave crimes.

She warned that African governments should not roll back important progress in ensuring perpetrators can be held to account.

The Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah, was also quoted as saying that the proposed amendment will be fundamentally at odds with the AU Constitutive Act, which rejects impunity.

“Impunity remains one of the biggest threats to human rights protection in Africa,” said Thuso Ramabolu, Human Rights Officer at Lesotho’s Transformation Resource Centre.

“It is crucial for people responsible for mass atrocities to face justice, irrespective of their official positions. Immunity poses grave alarm and would create an incentive to hold on to power indefinitely.”

Justice Ministers and attorney generals of African Union (AU) member countries are scheduled to meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia later this week to consider a draft protocol to expand the authority of the African Court on Justice and Human Rights to include criminal jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

A proposal providing immunity for heads of state and senior government officials from prosecution for such crimes is being considered as part of the amended protocol. The consideration of the draft protocol comes at a time of intense opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by some African leaders, particularly in the face of the ICC’s proceedings against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were later elected as Kenya’s President and Vice President.

– CAJ News

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