Amnesty report shows contempt African leaders have for the law, how toothless international justice can be

Many governments have brazenly broken international law and are deliberately undermining institutionsmeant to protect people’s rights

AMNESTY International, recently released its 2015/6 report on the state of the world’s human rights. 

When it came to African countries, one trend that stood out in the report was the sheer ability of government’s and those in power to openly flout the law. This type of impunity remained a key cause and driver of conflicts and instability on the continent over the past year. 

There was little or no accountability for crimes under international law committed by security forces and armed groups in countries as disparate as Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

In Nigeria for example there were promises by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by the military and Boko Haram, but no meaningful action was taken. 

African-owned courts

As for calls for “African-led and Africa-owned” courts to try suspects - amounted to nothing. 

The AU claimed that it would set up a court to try war crimes suspects in South Sudan but there was no progress towards its establishment. Similarly in the Central African Republic, the national transitional council adopted a law to establish a Special Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country since 2003. However little progress has been made in establishing the Court. 

Internationally, some states and the Africa Union also continued their political efforts to undermine the independence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to ensure immunity from prosecution for serving heads of state, even when accused of crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law. 

South Africa, for example, failed to arrest and surrender Sudan’s President al-Bashir to the ICC in June, in a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of victims killed during the Darfur conflict. I

n Kenya the government continuously attempts to undermine the International Criminal Court and its ability to pursue justice while Angola publicly snubbed UN recommendations on its rights record. In Gambia there was an utter refusal to co-operate with the UN and regional human rights mechanisms on issues including freedom of expression, enforced disappearance and the death penalty.

Watershed moment

But there are a couple of glimmers of hope outlined in the report. 

A watershed moment for international justice took place in Senegal when the trial against former Chadian President Hissène Habré opened in July – the first time a court in one African state had tried the former leader of another

There were also some measures taken by the AU Peace and Security Council, as well as sub-regional bodies, to address violent conflicts in the region which demonstrated a growing move from indifference to engagement.

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