The fight against impunity for international crimes in Africa: No ‘Free Pass’ for leaders say Human Rights Defenders

November 18, 2013

Today, 18 November, a group of 14 Africa-based NGOs came out with a strong statement supporting the ICC which has its annual meeting coming up 20-28 November in the Hague: “African governments should reject special exemptions for sitting officials before the International Criminal Court (ICC)“, African organizations and international organizations with a presence in Africa said in a document released today. The ICC faces important challenges in Africa. In October the African Union said that the trials of Kenya’s president and vice president, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, should be suspended

and that all sitting national leaders should receive immunity before international courts. “Human rights abuses by governments and armed groups remain one of the biggest challenges confronting people in Africa,” said George Kegoro, executive director of the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya. “Ideally, domestic courts will ensure justice for these crimes, but the ICC serves as a crucial court of last resort when they are unable or unwilling.” Some African leaders have taken the position that the ICC is targeting Kenya. In Kenya, where the authorities failed to respond adequately to post-election violence, the ICC prosecutor’s office acted to open an investigation. In all other situations before the ICC, the situations were referred by the governments where the crimes took place or by the United Nations Security Council, as with Libya and Darfur, Sudan. “The ICC is far from perfect, but it is not targeting Africa,” said Angela Mudukuti, international criminal justice project lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “The majority of ICC investigations came about because African governments requested the ICC’s involvement. These countries should work to dispel inaccurate information and to correct misperceptions about the court.” At the same time, there are double standards in the delivery of international justice that need to be addressed, the organizations said. “The ICC’s reach should be improved, but justice should not be denied in Africa because it is not yet possible everywhere,” said Chinonye Obiagwu, national coordinator at Nigeria’s Legal Defense and Assistance Project.

Organizations are: Burundi Coalition for the ICC, Center for Democratic Development of Ghana, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law-Sierra Leone, Coalition for the ICC, Congolese Association for Access to Justice, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, International Crime in Africa Programme of the Institute for Security Studies, Legal Defence and Assistance Project of Nigeria, Media Foundation for West Africa, NamRights in Namibia, Nigerian Coalition for the ICC, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Transformation Resource Centre of Lesotho.

Already on 28 October another group of NGOs (including some of the above) had organised  in the margins of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) a  side-event on “Fighting Against Impunity for International Crimes in Africa”, with the participation of Mr. Phakiso Mochochoko of the Office the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and of Mr. Pacifique Manirakiza, Commissioner at the ACHPR. These NGOs are: the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Groupe Lotus (DRC), the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS, Sudan), the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC, Kenya), the International Commission of Jurists, Kenyan Chapter (ICJ-Kenya), the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI, Uganda), the Organisation guinéeenne des droits de l’Homme (OGDH, Guinea-Conakry) and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP).

The event took place in the aftermath of the 12 October 2013 Decision of the African Union on its relationship with the ICC which determined that Heads of State and government in office, or anyone acting in that capacity, should not be prosecuted by the ICC or any other court of law. While debating on the legal and political implications of this decision, participants reiterated the correlation between the fight against impunity and non-repetition of crimes. They reminded that States have primary obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes and that only if they fail to do so does the International Criminal Court have jurisdiction. The challenges related to the role of the United Nations Security Council in referring and deferring situations to the ICC, which may be perceived as a politicized process; to the perception of double-standard considering that the Court is so far only conducting investigations in Africa; or to the prosecution against individuals who have been elected after their indictments, were addressed.Participants were reminded that (a) the role of the Security Council is prescribed by the Rome Statute and that the Court is not responsible for the politicization of its decision, (b) many situations currently under investigation before the ICC were voluntarily referred to the Court, and (c) ICC proceedings target individuals and not States. Participants strongly reiterated that the rights and interests of victims should be at the very center of the fight against impunity. The non-derogable right of victims of international crimes to justice and reparation, primarily before national courts and ultimately before the International Criminal Court, should be guaranteed. It should be noted that for the first time, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, intervened during the ACHPR’s plenary session.

“Call for African ICC States Parties to Affirm Support for the ICC at the Assembly of States Parties Session” is available at:


Side Event on the Fight against impunity for international crimes in Africa – FIDH.


2 Responses to “The fight against impunity for international crimes in Africa: No ‘Free Pass’ for leaders say Human Rights Defenders”

  1. […] The fight against impunity for international crimes in Africa: No ‘Free Pass’ for leaders say Hu… […]

  2. […] Human rights defenders from across Africa clarify misconceptions about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and highlight the need for African governments to support the court in a video released on 6 July 2016 by 21 African and international nongovernmental organizations. [see also:…] […]

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