Participants call for strengthening of African criminal justice

Desmon Davies, London Bureau

London, July 19, GNA
– African countries should strengthen their judicial systems if they want to
deal with international criminal justice cases on the continent instead of
relying on the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This was the
recurring theme at a side event at the recent AU Summit held in Addis Ababa
organised by the Africa Legal Aid (AFLA) to chart the way forward on the work
of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), which tried former Chadian
President Hissen Habre.

President Habre was
found guilty of crimes against humanity and torture among other things in May
2016 and confirmed by the EAC’s appeals Chamber, sitting in Dakar, in April
this year.

Following what was a
landmark case in Africa, international justice and human rights activists have
been calling for the continent to use the trial as a means of dealing with the
contentious issue of impunity on the continent.

According to AFLA, a
pan-African NGO working to promote

accountability and
end impunity for gross human rights offences, based in The Hague, the Habre
trial gave hope for “an African solution to an African problem”.         

One of the roles of
the ICC is to help members of the Rome Statute to deal with cases of
international criminal justice because the Court would never have the capacity
or right amount of funding to handle the growing number of cases.

However, in the case
of Africa,  the debate about
“complementarity” has been a heated one.

Speaking at the
opening of the event, the Executive Director of AFLA, Evelyn Ankumah, told
participants that “there is much agreement…that criminal justice should be done
as close to home as possible”.

She said: “The
closer justice is done at home, the greater its legitimacy and that is what we
call complementarity for which Africa needs “a car that will drive us to a
destination called ‘criminal justice’”.

She said if thatwas
the case, there should be “an African driver who knows the bumpy roads ahead”,
adding that national courts knew a country’s “legal-political map” best.

 Ms Ankumah noted, the national driver “may not
be able or willing to drive to the destination called criminal justice”, adding
that: “We may have to engage additional drivers, as the road to criminal
justice in Africa is probably a long and bumpy one.

“We know there is an
international driver who obtained its licence some 20 years ago in Rome and has
acquired quite some experience.

“Some of us,
however, have doubts whether that driver fully knows its way on Africa’s long
and winding roads and whether the driver will be able to reach the desired

Ms Ankumah said in
the Habre case, “that [African] driver did an extraordinary job and drove all
concerned to a destination called justice”.

She said in future,
“we must ascertain ourselves that the African driver is fully competent and
equipped with relevant resources”, adding: “If not, we may have to fall back on
or rely on that experienced international driver.

“In Africa, we do
not have much experience with transitional criminal justice.

“There is no
guarantee that, for example, the proposed African Criminal Law Chamber will
actually be able to deliver justice.

“To make such a
chamber successful, or to let universal jurisdiction exercised by foreign
courts work, we must carefully study the work of the Extraordinary African
Chambers to explore what made it successful,” Ms Ankumah added.

Reed Brody, one of
the lawyers representing victims, noted in a 36-page report about the trial:
“The uniqueness of the campaign was that it put the victims at the centre,
creating not just an irresistible political dynamic but a trial itself that
both showcased the victims’ efforts and largely met their expectations.

“Even rape victims
broke their 25-year silence to testify.”

Mr Brody, a
Commissioner at the International Commission of Jurists, noted: “It was the
first time ever that a head of state had been prosecuted for human rights
crimes in the courts of another country.

“The case was widely
hailed as a milestone for justice in Africa.”

Mr Habre was
overthrown in 1990 after eight years in power during which he was accused of
torture, among other crimes, and some of his victims, such as Souleymane
Guengueng, a former civil servant, began a 25-year campaign for justice.

It was not until
Macky Sall became President of Senegal in 2012 that things moved very swiftly
for Mr Habre’s victims.

“On a shoestring
budget of less than €9 million, the Extraordinary African Chambers in the
courts of Senegal, investigated massive crimes committed by a former dictator
over 25 years earlier in a country thousands of miles away, held a fair and
efficient trial, heard an appeal and issued a final verdict, making it the envy
of every international or hybrid tribunal,” Mr Brody explained.

The EAC ruled that
Mr Habre should pay €123 million in compensation to his victims.

While there were
those at the event who were upbeat about the Habre exercise, many participants
at the session pointed to the urgent need to have credible judicial systems in
Africa to ensure that international justice was served to make the ICC a court
of last resort.

They called for
domestic legal systems to function well, warning however that there was a lack
of political will to make that happen.

Others, including
the Director of Public Prosecutions in Kenya, Keriako Tobiko, encouraged the
AFLA and the AU build the capacity of investigating and prosecuting authorities
to deal with international justice crimes in Africa.

He added that the
ICC had not done much to develop complementarity in Africa that would help
strengthen judicial and other legal capacities.


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