- The African Union (AU) has decided that member states should not cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the arrest of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. Was this right? The discussion is going on all over Africa.
Tomorrow, the AU opens another session in Addis Ababa. There, the focus of discussions will be the Union's relationship with the ICC. The relation is complicated, as a disproportional number of indicted are Africans. Also, African nations are divided on joining or not joining the ICC. All AU members, however, are invited to discuss the AU's views on the ICC tomorrow.
At its July meeting, the AU decided that member states should not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest of the Sudanese President, contrary to the obligations of African states that are parties to the court. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for President al-Bashir in March for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
Tomorrow's meeting is to review the July decision on ICC's arrest warrant on Mr al-Bashir. Officially, the AU meeting is to discuss how African nations can "promote the court's ability to prosecute the world's worst crimes fairly and effectively." The stated purpose of the meeting is further to prepare for the Review Conference on the ICC, scheduled for May 2010 in Kampala.
Human rights groups all over Africa fear that the Addis Ababa meeting will further soften the African governments' cooperation with the international court. Several reacted with disappointment when they learnt that also countries not parties to the court would joint the assessment, fearing this would lead to further undeserved criticism of the ICC.
"Governments that oppose the ICC can be expected to try to use the AU meeting to undercut the court's ability to ensure justice for African and other victims," fears Aloysius Toe of the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy in Liberia.
Human rights activists in Africa at large are concerned that their governments will not use the ICC opportunity to root out the worst crimes against humanity happening in Africa. "The ICC is not without shortcomings, but the court remains one of the most important checks against unbridled impunity on the African continent," notes Georges Kapiamba of the Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More than 160 human rights groups from more than 30 African countries have signed a statement calling on all African governments to fully cooperate with the ICC, also when it comes to President al-Bashir's arrest order. "The AU's decision threatens to block justice for victims of the worst crimes committed on the continent," the statement reads.
"We look to our governments to remain steadfast in their support for justice for victims of the worst crimes, including by reaffirming their commitment to cooperate with the ICC," the 160 African NGOs write in their call.
The discussion about Africa's cooperation with the ICC has trickled down from a government level to include a rising part of civil society and the general public. The Court has not been able to come as high up on the public agenda in any other part of the world, and the African discussion about the ICC is bound to continue.
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