Africa is capable of making its own continental tribunal to replace the much-maligned International Criminal Court (ICC) if respective nations gather the willpower to completely adhere to it without fear or favour, three African chief justices have said.
The chief justices from Rwanda, South Africa, and Sierra Leone echoed these sentiments, yesterday, during an interview with local media in Kigali.
The justices are in Kigali for a three-day continental conference on collaboration for access to justice.
“Africa has the capacity to have its own criminal court but what will have to be seriously confronted is this: do we have the willpower to pursue everybody who is believed rightly or wrongly to have committed acts that warrant being referred to the African criminal court?” said Mogoeng Mogoeng, the chief justice of South Africa, responding to a question on whether Africa can establish a continental criminal court.
“Or are we going to duck and dive when one of us has to be referred to it and use all sorts of political and diplomatic language to shield people from being referred to it?”
Mogoeng noted that The Hague-based ICC has credibility challenges resulting from African countries being discriminated against and singled out for victimisation by the tribunal.
Among the challenges, Mogoeng noted, is the failure of the Western countries to sign their own statute that will make them accountable to the court as well.
“What seems to be hypocritical is this: some of the members of the Security Council of the United Nations have the audacity to refer African countries to the ICC but they have not themselves signed up to the Rome Statutes (that establishes the court). If you believe that an institution is good, you have to lead by example; sign up so that when you violate you can also be taken there,” he said.
‘Down to willpower’
Mogoeng added that Africa can establish “its own ICC” provided the important question of the willpower to respect it is settled.
“I don’t know whether we have the willpower to do it or not; but I am just saying let us settle that question first, otherwise you will have people killed left right and centre, and come referral time, nothing will happen because we can have some diplomatic arrangements and political cover ups to frustrate justice,” the South African chief justice said.
Prof Sam Rugege, the chief justice of Rwanda, agreed with his South African counterpart.
“I concur and I have nothing to add,” he said.
Abdulai Charm, the chief justice of Sierra Leone, said that the African judicial sector has people who can deliver judgment on international standards, but the establishment of a continental tribunal depends on the respective governments’ decision to unite and create it.
“The problem is that we as judiciaries can’t create a continental criminal court. It is the governments that will have to come together to say ‘we are creating our own institution similar to that of the ICC.’ We have the capacity, we have the man power,” he said.
“The problem is that if they decide to establish it, will the nations refer abusers of human rights to it? That is the question we have to answer.”
In February, African Union adopted a none-biding decision calling for mass withdrawal of member states from ICC, which is accused of undermining African nations’ sovereignty and unfairly targeting Africans.