African lawyers unite against abuse of universal jurisdiction

The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) has urged the world to agree on how to manage international indictments and arrest warrants in order to stop abusing the principle of universal jurisdiction. The body’s Executive Committee meeting in Cameroon early this week condemned the abuse of the principle mainly basing on how it was used to indict African leaders like top State officials in Rwanda and Senegal.

The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) has urged the world to agree on how to manage international indictments and arrest warrants in order to stop abusing the principle of universal jurisdiction.

The body’s Executive Committee meeting in Cameroon early this week condemned the abuse of the principle mainly basing on how it was used to indict African leaders like top State officials in Rwanda and Senegal.

This follows the controversial arrest warrants issued by two judges from France and Spain against Rwandan officials which are said to have been issued in contempt of judicial standards.

The warrants against nine Rwandan officials issued by Jean Louis Bruguiere of France resulted in last month’s arrest in Germany of the Director of State Protocol, Rose Kabuye.

“We don’t reject the principle of universal jurisdiction, but we want mechanisms of its regulation to be agreed on and put in place,” said Jean Haguma, the body’s Vice President in charge of the central African region.

Haguma is also a member of the Kigali Bar Association which brings together practicing lawyers in Rwanda.

He is among the nine members making up the union’s Executive Committee who signed a communiqué in which they called on the African Union to meet the United Nations and iron out how to regulate issuance of indictments and arrest warrants against suspects of grave crimes worldwide.

The lawyers asked the AU Chairperson to table the issue of the use of the principle of universal jurisdiction before both the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) for consideration.

“For example, Bruguière who was just in Paris when he issued the indictments should have first asked to meet the accused or set up a rogatory commission in Rwanda before issuing the warrants. Such mechanisms really need to be agreed on,” Haguma said, referring the French warrants issued in November 2006.

The Representatives of other African lawyers expressed disappointment in French officials and institutions including President Nicholas Sarkozy and his Prime Minister who denounced the arrest of former editor of Libération Vittorio de Filippis but haven’t up to now reacted against Bruguière’s warrants.

The lawyers said the abuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction amounts to ‘clear violation of the sovereignty’ of countries.

They called up on the European Union (EU) to freeze the execution of ‘outstanding’ warrants until member States of the UN set up a body of nations and an ‘appropriate’ regulatory system led by the UN to regulate the use of the universal principle.

PALU’s condemnation of abuse of international jurisdiction follows the same initiatives by the African Union, countries, and regional organisations like the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

Kabuye who was arrested in the German City of Frankfurt was, according to Rwandan officials, held in total disregard of the diplomatic status to which she was entitled at the time of her arrest as she had traveled to prepare a presidential visit. She is currently in France from where she awaits the date of her trial to be set. She has since been granted bail.

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