South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?

rodger_owisoAuthor: 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.[1] 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[2] and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state.[3] 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[4] is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?

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The conviction of Hissène Habré by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese Courts: Bringing justice in cases of serious human rights violations in Africa

Juan Pablo Perez-Leon-AcevedoAuthor: Juan Pablo Pérez-León-Acevedo
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Background

On 30 May 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal (EAC) found the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré criminally responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. The EAC condemned Hissène Habré to life in prison. The EAC indicated that the defence would have 15 days to appeal the conviction. Accordingly, the defence lawyers proceeded to appeal the conviction on 10 June 2016. During the trial that started on 20 July 2015 and ended on 11 February 2016, 96 witnesses, victims and experts participated, and 5600 transcript pages and over 56 exhibits were examined. The trial concerned crimes committed in Chad between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990, which corresponded to Habré’s rule. The EAC Trial Chamber convicted Habré, as a member of a joint criminal enterprise (involving, among others, directors of his political police aka the Direction de la documentation et de la sécurité (Documentation and Security Directorate (DSS)), of crimes against humanity of rape, sexual slavery, murder, summary execution, kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance, torture and inhumane acts committed against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the inhabitants of southern Chad and political opponents. As a member of a joint criminal enterprise, Habré was also convicted of torture. Additionally, the Chamber convicted Habré, under the modality of superior or command liability, of the war crimes of murder, torture, inhumane treatment and unlawful confinement committed against prisoners of war (international armed conflict), and of the war crimes of murder, torture and cruel treatment (non-international armed conflict). War crimes were examined, on the one hand, in the context of the non-international armed conflict between the Forces Armées Nationales du Tchad (National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT)) and the Gouvernment d’Union Nationale de Transition (Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT)), and, on the other one, in the context of the international armed conflict between Libya, allied to the GUNT, and Chad supported by France and the United States. Nevertheless, the Chamber acquitted Habré of the war crime of unlawful transfer.

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Call for a corruption-free Africa: A rights based approach

DuniaMekonnenTegegnAuthor: Dunia Mekonnen Tegegn
Human rights lawyer, Ethiopia

Corruption is a threat to human rights in that it erodes accountability and results in impunity. Given the interdependence of human rights, the impact of corruption on the whole spectrum of human rights; economic social and cultural rights as well as that of the civil and political rights is significant. It fundamentally distorts the machineries necessary for the realization of human rights namely good governance and rule of law.

Corruption undermines a government’s ability to deliver goods and services. It results in discriminations in the use and enjoyment of human rights. It further undermines the ability of individuals to access justice and corrode their role as active participants in decisions that affect them within the public service. Corruption has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups such as women, children and the poor as it decreases funds available for the provision of basic services like education, health and social services that these groups are mostly dependent on.

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Freedom of expression for a day in Eritrea

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: 2 November 2014

In a land where the right to freedom of expression and information is heavily curtailed, I sought to interview three exiled Eritrean journalists and allow them the space to freely express what they cannot in their country.

Why did you choose to become a journalist?

*Aman: “I used to be a development worker; I was taken to prison camps and three times I saw people tortured and killed. I started to write stories and post articles on what was happening…I became a journalist by accident – all I wanted to do was contribute to justice”.

Since Eritrea’s “liberation” from Ethiopia in 1991 and its international recognition as an independent sovereign state in 1993, the country gradually evolved into a nation rife with human rights abuses. Notably, the systematic attack on dissent of any form resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indefinite incommunicado detentions.

What does freedom of expression mean to you?

Aman:” It is a symbol of democracy- the flow of information without fear or restrictions – the means to freely enlighten and educate”.

18 September 2001 was coined as the Eritrean government’s ‘Crackdown’ on all independent media, when it banned the entire private press by shutting down media houses. It also marked the end of dissenting voices at the political level. Eighteen journalists, as well as eleven political leaders  were rounded – up and imprisoned incommunicado without trial. Their whereabouts are still unknown till today. Since then, more than 70 journalists have been detained at different periods in time.

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