The plight, human rights, and African Justice; trapped in transit

The term Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has been the subject of continuous debate among scholars, States and International Organizations (AU, UN, NATO…,) and the civil society all over the world. This discussion is not new; it can be pointed back from the 19th Century’s humanitarian intervention of the European Powers in the Ottoman Empire to the current intervention in global human rights crisis.

Ainley argues that the R2P process and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are the most important innovations in human rights protection, developed alongside each other to confront atrocity crimes through prevention, protection, and procession and the two are supposed to work in tandem to temper international politics and to end impunity.

The seeming failure of these institutions to adequately respond and tackle the humanitarian crisis has led to the formulation of the concept that the states have a responsibility to protect fundamental human rights of their people, and that the international community has the responsibility to step in when the states fail to do so.

R2P brings a new label that the international community, collectively or through the action of individual states, may forcibly intervene within the sovereign spheres of other countries, which are unwilling or unable to stop humanitarian catastrophes involving crimes against humanity, including and not limited to; starvation and humanity mass murder.

As an international Community, African Union (AU) established a set of norms and principles that mirror the tenets of R2P (as agreed by the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit). These AU standards and policies, coupled with the AU’s peace and security architecture, makes it proactive in the management of crisis and conflict prevention on the continent. However, is it effective?

A collaborative venture between the AU (at the continental level) and the UN and ICC (at the global scale) has the best options for deepening R2P norms.

The world is experiencing a unique moment of opportunity in the relation between the UN, ICC, and the AU.

The relationship manifests by AU’s responses to current security challenges in Darfur, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia and the  ICC’s application for the issuance of the arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir of Sudan. The call for withdrawal by the AU member states from ICC does not reflect a clear commitment to the R2P by the AU member states.

The AU’s attempt to solve the Africa’s crisis will continue to lag behind due to lack of political will and weakening of its principles and norms by its member states.

The proposal by African leaders to have a “collective withdrawal” from the Rome Statute, the foundational treaty of member states to the International ICC, is a source of real concern.

The objections raised by the leaders about ICC are of significant interest. The issues includes;

  1. The ICC management and the Courts independence
  2. The ICC has not been even-handed in its justice application
  3. Powerful member states which fund the ICC, such as the US, China, and Russia, cannot face trial in the court.
  4. The significant players on the international scene are not signatories to the ICC is problematic and leaves a large proportion of the world population uncovered by the court’s remit.

Even with the above ICC shortcomings, it is an indisputable fact that Africa disproportionately bear the most crimes perpetrated by their leaders, including mass murder and displacements and ICC has played a crucial role in offering justice to victims. What the institution needs are internal reforms to make it more efficient and effective.

The proposed African Court of Justice is still a long way off, and it is by no means clear either that it will be useful in its application of justice or that there is enough funding available from the AU to sustain an institution with such a massive mandate.

Withdrawing from the ICC with no credible mechanism for justice for mass crimes in place would be an error of colossal proportions. It is much better for the African member states to stay in the ICC and advocate for internal reforms rather than bolting and leaving millions of Africans unprotected by an international court which can step in when the national institutions fail.


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