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AU creates court to rival ICC in Tanzania

By Peter Opiyo | June 28th 2012

By Peter Opiyo

An African court to try those accused of committing international crimes would be established in Arusha, Tanzania.

Kenya’s Ambassador to African Union Dr Monica Juma said the process of establishing the court, an equivalent of International Criminal Court (ICC), has commenced and technocrats from the 54-member states are working on modalities that would see the court up and running.

“The process of establishing the court has commenced but it is a matter of negotiation. The location however, has been identified and it would be in Arusha,” said Dr Juma who is also the Permanent representative to Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

While addressing fellows of African Leadership Centre, Dr Juma said attorneys from the member states met in Addis Ababa last month to deliberate on the statutes that would help establish the court.

The African Union has been lobbying for the establishment of its own court to try perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity following mistrust by its political leaders that ICC is a foreign tool aimed at frustrating African leaders.

The ambassador said once the African court is established it would be upon individual member states to have membership in both the court and ICC.

The idea to establish such a court came up 2007/08 when the Group of African Experts, which was commissioned by the AU to advise it on the ‘merger’ of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the African Court of Justice, recommended that due consideration should be given to expanding the jurisdiction of the African Court to cover international crimes. Their recommendation was however, not endorsed by AU Member States.   

But it has since gained currency following arrest warrant issued by ICC against Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir and the referral of Kenyan cases on post-election violence to The Hague-based Court.  Four Kenyans, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, Eldoret North MP, William Ruto and Radio presenter Joshua Sang’ are facing trials by ICC. AU feels western powers are controlling Africa through the Court. As a consequence there have been calls for Africa to pull out of the court.

But Dr Juma said enmasse pull out is not practicable as every nation signed the Rome Statute individually. The statute established ICC.

“You can’t stand in a Union Summit and say we are pulling out. It is inconceivable that AU will walk out of ICC in one day,” said Dr Juma in an address to fellows from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda and Burkina Faso.

She said the procedure for withdrawal is set out in the Rome Statute and the arguments that have always been advanced by political leaders are just to champion political agenda.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who addressed the meeting via video-link, said accusation of ICC of bias has immense risks but called for justice for both the victims of atrocities and the accused.

“Peace can’t pay dividend without justice for all,” said Tutu.

In April the East African Legislative Assembly passed a motion calling for the extension of the jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice to try international crimes, as African countries try to shelve its leaders from trial by ICC.

A section of the fellows however, registered displeasure with AU accusing it of sitting on the fence and allowing foreign states to intervene in the Ivory Coast and Libyan crises. But Dr Juma defended the organization saying the African Peace and Security Council deliberated on the Libyan crises hours on end but its activities were never publicized.

“Last year we (APSC) sat more than any institution in the world in the case of Libya. But while others told their story, Africa never told its story. We sat more than twice the US Security Council sat,” said Dr Juma.



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