ADDIS ABABA, July 13 – The African Union is mulling the establishment of a continental criminal court to try human rights abuses on home soil instead of in Europe, the head of the existing pan-African court said Friday.
“An African court trying Africans will be more aware of the cultural, social environment and context of the crimes themselves,” said Judge Gerard Niyungeko, president of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
The court, which at present does not have the jurisdiction to try criminals, has appealed to the 54-member AU ahead of its biannual summit beginning Sunday to upgrade its mandate so as to convict criminals.
However, Niyungeko said that even if the AU adopts the recommendation to empower the court to try criminals, it could be years before members then ratify the decision to allow the court to function.
“It is on the agenda of the summit, but to know whether it will be adopted or not is another story,” he said.
It is also not clear how the court would function in relation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, but Niyungeko said the two bodies would have to make arrangements to decide where criminals would be tried.
“There will be a need for both courts to discuss and come up with some practical arrangements so as to avoid overlapping jurisdictions,” he said.
The court, which currently functions to protect the AU Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, was established in 2004 and sits in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. Its protocol has been signed by 26 countries.
Sophia Affuko, the court’s vice president, said the need to create an African criminal court springs from criticism that the ICC only tries African cases.
“The perception is simply that they are gunning for Africans,” Affuko said. “So far they have only investigated and prosecuted Africans.”
She said the ICC’s credibility has also suffered because it is seen as relying on unreliable evidence in its trials.
“There’s also the perception that even the investigation has been rather wishy-washy and not done quite professionally,” she added.
This year, the ICC appointed Fatou Bensouda from Gambia as the body’s chief prosecutor, replacing Louis Moreno Ocampo, from Argentina.