Human Rights Watch accuses African leaders of undermining AU Charter

posted in: Africa

African Union Summit Photo: UN


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia- A top official of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused African leaders of undermining the African Union (AU) Charter through their decision that no sitting African leader should be made to appear before any international court.

PANA reported Sunday that as part of the decisions taken at their one-day summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday, African leaders are seeking the deferral of the cases against the Kenyan and Sudanese leaders before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In order to safeguard the constitutional order, stability and integrity of member states, “no serving AU head of state or government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such a capacity, shall be required to appear before any international court or tribunal during their term of office,” the AU leaders said.

Commenting on the decision, Mr. Daniel Bekele, the Executive Director of the Africa Division at HRW, noted that the decision at the AU Summit ”directly undermines the AU’s own Charter and principles that proclaim support for the rule of law, respect for human rights, and an end to impunity”.

He added: ”But most of all, the AU’s message from Addis is a profoundly disturbing message to Africans that their leaders’ biggest priority is not development, good governance, or respecting basic rights; it’s ensuring that the leaders themselves are insulated from justice, at whatever price.”

In a commentary entitled ”Failure of leadership at AU Summit”, Mr. Bekele sharply criticized the African leaders for spending precious time debating AU member states’ relations with the ICC, in reference to the major theme of the summit.

He wondered why the leaders chose to take on the ICC instead of seeking solutions to the numerous conflicts on the continent or the issue of poverty that has maintained ”a stranglehold” on millions of people across the continent.

”But no, the depressing truth is that the main issue on the agenda in Addis Ababa was how to protect a handful of Africa’s most powerful people.

”AU leaders concluded that instead of addressing any of the urgent human rights disasters that threaten Africans, displacing millions and forcing tens of thousands to flee abroad, the most urgent issue was to unite their voices to obstruct the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has become the last, best hope for many of those Africans who have been victims of atrocities implicating some of these very same leaders,” Mr. Bekele wrote.

He described as ”appallingly self-serving” and ”repugnant” the AU Summit’s decision to seek a deferral of the cases against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Mr. William Ruto, as well as Sudanese leader Omar Al-Bashir at the ICC.

”The notion that sitting heads of state should have immunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity is not just appallingly self-serving, it’s repugnant given the kind of disincentive it would create for anyone to leave power, as well as the incentive it creates for the unscrupulous to gain or maintain power at whatever cost—by murder, coup, or fraudulent elections, just to name a few,” the HRW official wrote.

With all cases pending before the ICC focusing on Africa, the continent’s leaders have accused The Hague-based court of targetting Africans, a development that informed their decision to discuss Africa’s relations with the court at the Summit on Saturday.

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