African Union gives presidents immunity from war crimes

The African Union (AU) has adopted a resolution granting sitting presidents immunity from prosecution for war crimes at a continental court set up to try grave crimes.

But the decision to exclude sitting heads of government from prosecution at the African Court of Justice and Human Rights reached by leaders during the AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on June 26 has sparked condemnation from civil rights groups.

Tuesday, Amnesty International (AI) termed the decision a "backward step in the fight against impunity and a betrayal of victims of serious violations of human rights".

In a statement, AI said African heads of state and government voted to adopt an amendment granting incumbent government leaders and other senior officials immunity from prosecution in the African court.

"At a time when the African continent is struggling to ensure there is accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, it is impossible to justify this decision which  undermines the integrity of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, even before it becomes operational," said AI's Africa Director for Research and Advocacy Netsanet Belay.

Irrespective of the AU's decision, the International Criminal Court will retain the right to investigate serving African heads of state and government for such crimes, AI added.

"We are deeply disappointed that African heads of state and government have failed to provide the leadership needed to ensure justice."