South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?Posted: 28 October, 2016
Author: Rodger Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL
While the decision by South Africa to commence the formal process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is shocking, honest observers will admit it was not entirely unforeseen. African countries through the African Union (AU) have long voiced misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it was just a matter of time before the usually slow-moving AU clock started ticking. The AU had earlier this year urged its members to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute. This was triggered by the refusal by the United Nations Security Council and the ICC to accede to the AU’s requests for suspension or termination of the cases against Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
While South Africa’s decision should be condemned, nothing much is likely to come of such condemnation. Treaties are a product of state consent and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state. Even if an argument could be advanced against such unilateralism, the process is still a political one which rests almost entirely with the political class, at least in imperfect democracies. South Africa’s move is likely to embolden other African countries to commence similar processes. South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy and the AU’s largest member contributor. It is also arguably one of Africa’s better-off imperfect democracies. For these reasons, it is often the case in continental affairs that other African countries hold on to their cards until South Africa plays after which they emerge from their cocoons and play theirs in more or less similar fashion. With the possible exception of ‘righteous’ Botswana and perhaps Mauritius that considers itself African only when the situation suits it, the possibility that other African countries will follow South Africa’s lead on the ICC cannot be ruled out. In light of such possibility, how then does Africa assure its citizens that the fight against impunity as is entrenched in its founding instrument is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?
A case currently before the Constitutional Court of Uganda is providing an interesting test for how far courts can go in protecting basic human rights. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. Every person is equally entitled to them without discrimination. They are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
Universal human rights are often guaranteed by law through treaties and various sources of international law which generally oblige governments to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.
Apart from international obligations, countries have various ways of entrenching human rights. Most contemporary constitutions entrench basic human rights. Such constitutions include the 1996 Constitution of South Africa and the 2010 Kenyan Constitution. Likewise, the 1995 Constitution of Uganda contains the Bill of Rights that guarantees fundamental freedoms and basic rights including the rights to health and to life.
10 December 2015 marked the 65th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day, which the international community celebrates annually to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is arguably the first global document to pronounce on human rights standards that countries ought to aspire to. Though not a treaty itself and therefore not binding on Member States, the UDHR serves as the cornerstone for the definition of human rights and fundamental freedoms as outlined in the United Nations Charter, which is legally binding on all State Parties including Eritrea which joined the United Nations(UN) in 1993.
The UDHR is also the bedrock upon which treaties such the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) were founded. Eritrea has notably ratified both covenants, further and invariably placing upon itself a legal obligation to abide by the human rights norms enunciated in the declaration as well as other ratified treaties.
The United Nations General Assembly held its Seventieth Session in October 2015, during which the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, H.E. Mr. Osman Saleh, was invited to address the assembly. In his speech, the Honourable Minister declared that Eritrea is making remarkable progress in building a nation founded on the respect for human rights, contrary to what he described as “unfair and baseless accusations” of human rights violations that Eritrea has been subjected to. But is Eritrea truly making the progress that it has committed itself to in terms of the UDHR? Is it being unfairly targeted by the international community? These questions warrant an examination of some of the observations on the state of human rights in Eritrea made by treaty bodies and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
Some reflections on the current Africa’s project on the establishment of African Court of Justice and Human Right (ACJHR)Posted: 29 June, 2015
It has been more than thirteen years since the ICC was established and started its operation on most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crime against humanity, crimes of war and aggression. The court is established by virtue of the Rome Statute as a permanent international criminal tribunal independent from other UN bodies. To date, all cases that have been investigated by ICC are from Africa. African countries generally have cooperated in the early stages of the establishment of ICC.
Nowadays, however, it seems that the relationship between the ICC and Africa is turning into a growing trend of contention. It has been a point of discussion in the academia and in the international politics as to whether the court is indeed exclusively targeting Africa regardless of their contribution and cooperation in the creation and advancement of ICC. The AU and various leaders in Africa have expressed their dissatisfaction in different occasions that the court is “neo-colonialist policy” or “post-colonial court.” As a result, the AU in 2008 adopted a protocol on the establishment of African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR). The protocol is being circulated and so far 11 countries have signed the document. Last year at the AU Summit, the current president of Kenya urged for the immediate establishment of the court.
Notwithstanding the current uncertainty about the fate of the Draft Protocol and thereby the establishment of the ACJHR, it is worthwhile to examine some of the challenges and opportunities that the court might face and the future of international criminal justice in Africa.
AU Assembly should consider human rights implications before adopting the Amending Merged African Court ProtocolPosted: 23 May, 2012
A radical change to the ever-altering African regional judicial landscape is looming large. Meeting in Addis Ababa in mid May 2012, the African Union (AU) ‘Government Experts and Ministers of Justice/Attorneys General on Legal Matters’ adopted the AU – Final Court Protocol – As adopted by the Ministers 17 May (Amending Merged Court Protocol, Exp/Min/IV/Rev.7, 15 May 2012). This draft will in all likelihood serve before the meeting of the AU Heads of State and Government (AU Assembly), to be held in July, in Malawi. If adopted by the AU Assembly, the Protocol will confer upon the to-be-established African Court of Justice and Human Rights the jurisdiction to convict and sentence individuals for international crimes. This paper aims to highlight some concerns, particularly from a human rights angle, about the Amending Merged Court Protocol, in its current form, and argues that the complex implications arising from the suggested amendments require more deliberation and broad inclusive discussion.