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Africa should support ICC in AU Meeting

In May 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will organise its first Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda, since the adoption of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty. This conference will offer ICC state parties the opportunity to take stock of the past years, review the treaty and address general concerns.

In preparation for this major event, African state parties to the Rome Statute—including a number of African non-state parties—will hold a meeting from November 3-6 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is worth taking note of this preparatory meeting since African states will most likely set the tone of future discussions during the Review Conference.

As Kenyans now have a direct interest in the ICC, it is clear that Kenya’s representatives to the preparatory meeting—from both the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs—must urge African state parties to the ICC to maintain the integrity of the Rome Statute and support the Court in its work.

Based on the previous African Union meeting in July 2009 in Sirte, Libya which produced a decision not to cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, this preparatory meeting will inevitably raise concerns over, among other questions, the immunity of high officials whose states are not party to the Rome Statute.

There can, however, be no impunity for crimes against humanity. Concerns about the fragility and stability of the Sudan are, no doubt, paramount for the African Union (AU), just as they are for Kenyans who have invested so much in the Sudanese peace process. But such concerns can and should be addressed without, in effect, seeming to support the idea that impunity is acceptable for crimes against humanity. The AU has as its own goal ending impunity. The AU should not therefore turn its back on the very institution that provides the hope of justice for the countless victims of atrocities in the region. It is regrettable to see African state parties to the Rome Statute not upholding their commitment to support and cooperate with the Court. Non-cooperation undermines the ICC’s effort to end to impunity.

Kenya and other African state parties to the ICC know that it is not a biased court focused only on Africa. Africa was a driving force behind the creation of the Court; Africa is the most represented region within the Court with a number of high level officials from the region; three out of four situations before the Court were deferred by African states themselves; and the Court is currently analysing other situations outside of Africa, including Palestine, Colombia, Georgia, and Afghanistan.

It is time for African states parties to renew their commitment to and cooperation with the ICC and for African non-state parties to show support for the Court. This November preparatory meeting offers the possibility to do so.

(The writer is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission)

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