African Union gives immunity to heads of state by subterfuge

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JUST an ordinary piece of business — an announcement at the end of the African Union’s (AU’s) recent summit of heads of state and government in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, that it had voted to adopt the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

And, with a title like that, the average observer would reckon it was not worth further thought: a document likely filled with tedious procedural stuff.

You would think that the AU might want a little more fanfare for its decision to vest its new court for the continent with criminal jurisdiction — an ability to prosecute crimes such as genocide and war crimes, but also piracy and trafficking.

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Think again. Buried deep in the protocol is a clause that grants immunity to heads of state and other senior government officials, exempting them from prosecution for these crimes during their term of office.

Now the subterfuge starts making a little more sense.

Most of Africa’s inhabitants, with the exception perhaps of Swaziland’s citizens, are not much accustomed nowadays to having their leaders legislate one rule for them and an entirely different one for themselves.

Equality before the law is a principle central not only to our present-day legal systems, but has also served as motivation for liberation.

So AU leaders probably calculated, reasonably, that the general public would not be pleased to learn that they were now liable for such crimes — just not their leaders.

That is especially so when it is these African leaders, and not the general public, who are most likely to commit these crimes.

Crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity are generally perpetrated on a huge scale and have a systematic nature. They take root where a lack of accountability prevails.

Those who have the means to perpetrate these crimes, who see themselves as above the law, are generally those who wield the greatest power.

Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.