Report of the AU Panel of the Wise on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation in Africa

The Report of the African Union Panel of the Wise on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges in the Fight Against Impunity available here is worth reading. I certainly agree with the urgency of establishing the AU-ICC Liaison Office for the many reasons cited but at the very least for purposes of ensuring that the spirit behind the creation of the ICC – to fight impunity for international crimes – and which is shared by the Constitutive Act establishing the AU, remains top of the agenda for African States. The report recommends the establishment of AU hybrid courts, akin perhaps to the proposed extension of jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice, Human and People’s Rights over international crimes. I have a different view on the establishment of these AU hybrid courts. The ‘new norms of international justice’ that the report refers to alluding to the ceding of sovereignty to an international body such as the ICC to investigate and prosecute international crimes, would be replicated at the continental level with such AU hybrid courts. To avoid the possibility of further dissent in Africa from yet another supranational body, it would be more beneficial for African States and indeed States in other regions to establish meaningful national legal frameworks that would keep to the spirit of the norm  to fight impunity for international crimes. Building the capacity of states to effectively deal with these crimes and redressing the harm caused to the victims of the crimes is the ideal and sustainable way to go about fighting impunity for international crimes. The report on the whole treats this important subject in the continent the seriousness it deserves and hopefully the discourse would continue at the African Union level, particularly some movement on the shaping of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework. 

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Mrs Fatou Bensouda will be in Kenya from 22-26 October, 2012. Reports from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) state that the purpose of Mrs. Bensouda and her team’s trip to Kenya will primarily be to visit victims of the post-election violence as well as to obtain crucial information that would support the prosecution’s cases against four Kenyans whose trials will commence at the ICC next year in April.

A few weeks ago, the Head of Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation at the OTP Mr Phakiso Mochochoko, wrote to Kenya’s Attorney General (AG) Prof Githu Muigai expressing disappointment for a lack of effective cooperation by Kenya with the OTP. The OTP has been seeking Kenya’s cooperation in obtaining information from different government agencies. Kenya is obligated under Article 86 of the Rome Statute to cooperate with the ICC. The AG blamed the delay in cooperating with the OTP on the failure of certain government agencies who possess the required information to quickly respond to the OTP’s request. The AG has reiterated that Kenya remains committed to her obligations under the Rome Statute. Prof Muigai has also praised Mrs Bensouda’s better approach to her mandate and relations with States Parties to the Rome Statute that created the ICC than her predecessor Mr Louis Moreno-Ocampo. However as Chief Legal Advisor to the government of Kenya, it is his responsibility to ensure that Kenya abides by its international commitments.

It is clear in the past few months that Mrs. Bensouda has been in office as Chief Prosecutor that she has a different leadership style to her predecessor who was shrouded with controversy over his sometimes boisterous approach to his mandate. With such a start to her mandate, the Fatou Effect as I have called it elsewhere is bound to have a more persuasive, endearing and results-oriented function about the OTP. This is a good thing and necessitates cordial relationships between the ICC situation countries and the OTP. Often the first or more prominent organ in the interface between a situation country and the ICC, it is important that the OTP establishes and maintains the right approach to prosecutions and investigations and Fatou has clearly understood this.

For Kenya, a visit form the ICC Chief Prosecutor can be used to mend fences where the relationship between government and the ICC was strained following Ocampo’s initiation of investigations in the country. We should not however forget that Fatou was the Deputy Prosecutor at the time when the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber authorized OTP’s investigations into Kenya, and it is unlikely that her sentiments on the prosecutions and investigations in Kenya have changed since her taking office as Chief Prosecutor. Rather the Fatou we see now, is seasoned with the experiences – both failings and successes of the OTP over the past 10 years of its operations, which no doubt inform the prosecutorial strategy for the Kenya cases.

Cooperation by States Parties with the ICC can be a two-way street. Within the ambit of positive complementarity – a concept that solidified its footing at the Kampala Review Conference of the ICC’s founding treaty in 2010 – Kenya can request for the support of the ICC in effectively investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of committing crimes related to the post-election violence. We are certainly not referring to local prosecution for the four Kenyans whose trials are scheduled to start in April 2013, but rather the many other perpetrators of crimes following the 2007 elections in Kenya. The OTP is on record stating that although it will not provide financial support to States that ask for support under the positive complementarity principle, it can provide technical and logistical assistance. Kenya can benefit from the visit by the OTP to request for such assistance. It is important in this transition that Kenya deals with its past and that the many victims of the crimes committed following the 2007 elections are redressed.

In August 2012, a task force set up by Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mr Keriako Tobiko to look into the thousands of files at the DPP’s office relating to the PEV released an interim report with findings that many of the files may have to be closed because evidence that would be necessary to adduce before court for convictions is non-existent. This means that many victims of the PEV will not receive the justice that they have sought for the past five years. There still remain opportunities for meaningful cooperation that would benefit both Kenya and the OTP on matters relating to prosecutions and investigations in Kenya. It will take the concerted efforts of the relevant Kenyan authorities to bring this about.

Kenya’s Ongoing Battle with Complementarity at the ICC

There has been a fair amount of jostling around by the government of Kenya in the international community since the naming by the ICC Prosecutor in December 2010, of six Kenyans as being the most responsible for the violence that erupted in the country following the disputed Presidential elections in 2007. Kenya wants to prevent its nationals from being subjected to the international criminal justice processes. In essence the Kenyan cases place the complementarity principle – able and willing local courts have first preference to the ICC to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in their territories – under a rigorous test of its efficacy.

Last month, the East Africa Legislative Assembly passed a motion to allow the East African Court of Justice to request the transfer of the ICC trials of four Kenyans, including Uhuru Kenyatta (Deputy Prime Minister, son of the Kenya’s first President and currently a presidential aspirant) to the Arusha-based East African Court of Justice. The resolution has been met by stiff criticism. The East African Law Society has questioned the practicality of the resolution by the Assembly in the face of the latest draft of the East African Community (EAC) Protocol on extending the jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice, in which all the EAC members agreed to exclude any reference to human rights adjudication by the court.

This is not the first time that Kenya attempts to exclude the ICC from conducting trials of the four accused persons for crimes related to the post-election violence (PEV). Kenya challenged the admissibility of the cases before the ICC in 2011 citing the capacity of its new constitutional framework to handle these crimes. The Pre-Trial Chamber decided against Kenya’s challenge citing that the only condition to be satisfied by Kenya in order for the cases to be transferred to local courts is the so-called “same person, same conduct rule”, which means that Kenya needs to demonstrate that its criminal justice system is investigating the ICC suspects for the same crimes that the ICC is seized. A cursory analysis of the rulings would conclude that the task before Kenya is then very simple – demonstrate to the ICC that investigations have commenced and assert the doctrine of complementarity. There is however more than meets the eye in this situation. Kenya has indeed undergone a radical constitutional change with credible systems being put in place to ensure good governance and the respect for the rule of law. The issue seems to be the profile of the four individuals who are to face trial in The Hague. Under the circumstances, can Kenya genuinely claim inability to commence investigations on the four accused persons or is it a case of unwillingness so to act?

Being dissatisfied with the ICC ruling, Kenya with the support of the African Union (AU) approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), empowered by the ICC Statute, to request the ICC to defer investigations in Kenya for a period of one year. The UNSC did not reply to this request thereby sending the AU back into its drawing room for more resolutions calling for the non-cooperation of all African States Parties with the ICC. There is no doubt that a bitter taste has been left on the Kenyan and AU palates with regards to their interface with the ICC.

A more recent development indirectly linked but noteworthy to the ICC Kenya cases is the expansion of the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights to conduct individual criminal prosecutions. Justice Ministers and Attorneys General from the African continent are meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on May 7-11, 2012 to consider adopting a protocol that will confer this type of jurisdiction to the African Court. Civil society organizations working in Africa have written to these experts articulating the deficiencies of the protocol. Expansion of the African Court’s jurisdiction risks “diluting the work of the current African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and may undermine human rights protection.” This proposed expansion is at variance with the practice of other regional systems such as the Inter-American Human Rights Court and the European Court of Human Rights both of which have delivered rulings on landmark cases that promote the respect for human rights. Whereas precedent-setting by the African human rights protection system is encouraged, expanding the jurisdiction as proposed is a sure recipe for a complex process, expensive and inevitably delayed justice. A dual approach of adjudicating allegations of human rights violations by African States and jurisdiction for individual criminal responsibility for international crimes defeats the ends of justice. Some commentators find this move to be shrouded in a protectionist agenda by and for African leaders and their criminal allies from facing the music at the ICC. There is little or no confidence that these proposed jurisdictional expansions of regional courts by African leaders is in support of combating impunity for international crimes on the continent.

The fallacy of these attempts to stop the ICC trials in Kenya, is that complementarity, which is the cornerstone of the functioning of the ICC, supports national criminal jurisdictions and not regional courts superimposed with international criminal jurisdiction. Where a matter is before the ICC such as the cases relating to the four Kenyans, the Rome Statute is clear that only a State with jurisdiction to investigate and try persons accused of committing the international crimes can challenge the jurisdiction or admissibility of cases and if successful, it is only to that state that cases can be transferred. There is no support in the existing legal framework of the ICC for cases to be referred, transferred or deferred to regional courts such as the East African Court of Justice or the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

Kenya’s President is committed to ensuring that the four accused attend local trials following a Report submitted by a Government Working Committee on the ICC. The Committee reports that “provisions set out in …the Constitution…could permit Kenya to have jurisdiction in respect of crimes under international law at the time of the PEV.” The ICC has constituted a Trial Chamber for the Kenyan cases and its Spokesperson clarified that the Chamber is ready to start its work. As the country prepares for its elections, the coming months will tell whether Kenya will successfully challenge the admissibility of the ICC cases after conforming to complementarity requirements or stand back and watch the ICC conduct the trials, while also submitting to periodic requests for the country’s cooperation with the Court.

This article is a preview of the author’s piece in an upcoming African Edition of the SARB Newsletter soon to be available at http://www.reconciliationbarometer.org