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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20 years after the TRC: Are we any the better?

thabang_mokgatleAuthor: Thabang Mokgatle
Candidate Attorney, Rushmere Noach Incorporated, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“We are looking to maintain not retribution but reparation; we are seeking room for humanity rather than revenge”
– Desmond Tutu, First hearing of the TRC in April 1996

15 April 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) first commenced in South Africa. In reflecting on the occasion, the words of Desmond Tutu above quoted have unveiled two pertinent questions:  Did post-apartheid South Africa, in 1996, require a moment for justice or for reconciliation? Would the pursuit of the former in the first instance, not have led to the achievement of the latter? There is a growing sense that in prioritising the ‘rainbow nation’, the TRC substantially undermined the realisation of justice (institutional justice through the court system). Victims of apartheid-era crimes have supposedly been short-changed, leaving much to be desired since the TRC first convened.

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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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The SADC Tribunal: Concerted efforts for waves of change we want to see

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is known for its spectacular and majestic water falls. In August last year it was not just water that was falling at Victoria Falls but the SADC Tribunal as we know it fell spectacularly as leaders from the Southern African Development Community approved a new protocol to reconstitute the SADC Tribunal. The new tribunal has a limited mandate. By adopting a new protocol, the leaders effectively buried the SADC Tribunal which used to operate under the 2000 protocol. They decided to ignore recommendations from their own legal advisors and attorney generals and created a new Tribunal whose mandate is limited only to the adjudication of inter-state disputes. Simply put, under the 2014 Protocol, citizens are deprived of their right to refer a dispute between themselves and their government to the SADC Tribunal. Without a tribunal, justice and redress will remain elusive for people of the region.

It is important to remember that central to the demise of the tribunal is the case of Mike Campbell and Others v Zimbabwe (Campbell Case) in which the Tribunal found in favor of Zimbabwean white farmers whose land had been compulsorily acquired and without compensation by the Zimbabwean government. In retaliation Zimbabwe strategically attacked the jurisdiction and operation of the tribunal, mobilized support for its suspension and ultimately, its eventual disbandment. By succumbing to the demands of Zimbabwe, SADC Heads of state have ultimately eliminated the access of individuals and groups to the Tribunal at the behest of one State [Zimbabwe] and consequently depriving the entire region of the benefits of such an important institution. Discussions and decisions on the utility of the Tribunal should rather surpass the opinion of one State’s argument based on just one case and personal short term gains. Even so, Zimbabweans themselves and particularly politicians and elected MPs who represent the people of that country must objectively review the wisdom in taking such a stance – more so at a time when Zimbabwe chairs the SADC bloc. They must never forget that they too are ordinary individuals who also depend on fair, transparent and accessible judicial mechanisms which they may need at some point in their lives regardless of their political affiliations. That is, at any given time the tide turns, politicians whether in opposition or in power are susceptible to becoming victims of State sanctioned attacks on the dignity of individuals, including political violence.

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The African Union summit on the International Criminal Court: In whose interest?

wonderr_freemanAuthor: Wonderr Freeman
LLM (Trade and Investment Law in Africa) candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa
(Date of article: 4 October 2013)

On 13 October 2013, leaders of African states will meet in Addis Ababa, under the African Union (AU) banner), to consider a possible withdrawal from the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC). African leaders do not find favour with the ICC’s pursuit of Kenya’s “big men”- President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The AU draws links between the indictment of Kenyatta and Ruto with that of President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast. Having drawn such links, the AU is of the view that the ICC is a western plot to finish-off African leaders. What is striking of the AU’s ICC analysis is the complete lack of consideration for the victims, 99.9% of whom are Africans. It seems as though grave crimes against humanity are of much less importance when a few “big men” stand accused.  What seems to be of extreme importance in the minds of African leaders is that, once again, one of their kind is wanted for crimes against humanity.

African heads of states are rarely united on any issue relevant to development of the continent, such as a common currency, the free movement of people and products, military interventions in war torn regions, etc. However, when it comes to protecting the likes of Bashir and Kenyatta, the AU is zealously united – without regard to the victims of atrocities.

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The politics of the Ethiopian Justice Sector Reform Program: Justice “reform” or “deform”?

henok_g_gabisaAuthor: Henok G. Gabisa
International Law Fellow, Washington and Lee School of Law, VA, USA

The African post-colonial period marked a new paradigm of triangular discourse amongst law, justice and development in the international playground. The intellectual metamorphoses of this discourse quickly gained momentum in the mid-60s and was patented the “Movement of Law and Development”. Highly alluring to professors and intellectuals from American law schools, this intellectual movement regarded “law” as an instrument to reform the society and ‘lawyers and judges” as social engineers. With this movement, the narrative was that law is central to the development processes. Then in the early 90s, the movement gave birth to the idea of the “Justice System Reform Program”, also referred to as the “Judicial Reform Program”. The emergence of this idea immediately became a serious agenda in the strategic themes of international financial institutions and bilateral states cooperation structures under the wrestling juxtaposition of “rule of law” and “poverty eradication”. The geographical focus of this idea was only limited to the developing nations of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and some Latin American countries.

There are two main rationales behind the theoretical innovation of ‘judicial reform’: a well-established and effective justice system is not only robust enough to confront corruption and violation of rights (with the assumption that courts as custodies of human rights), it can also be relied on to protect the property rights of foreign investors (the concept of development has always been viewed as capitals flowing from north to south-until very recently that the newly rising economies of BRICS- an acronym for the multi-dimensional partnership between Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and South Africa- proved otherwise that capital can also flow from south to south). The ambition of reforming judiciaries in developing countries beseeches building the practical meaning of judicial independence and professional competence that can help build an unwavering system of justice delivery. However, this initiative seems to have totally been lost in translation and taken advantage of for political purposes by the Ethiopian government.

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