Monday, April 21, 2014

Nigeria’s President Jonathan seeks immunity for African leaders from ICC prosecution for war crimes, genocide

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President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria said it is ‘disappointed’ with the ICC over African affairs.

Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, has called for an amendment of the laws governing the International Criminal Court, ICC, to allow serving African leaders to enjoy immunity from prosecution for war crimes, genocide, and war against humanity.

Two serving African presidents, Sudan and Kenya, have been accused of war crimes by the ICC.

Mr. Jonathan stated this on Saturday in an address at the Extraordinary Session of African Union Heads of State and Government, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“Our (Nigeria’s) position is that certain Articles of the Rome Statute are of grave concern to Africa. In particular, Article 27 which denies immunity to all persons without regard to customary international law, conventions and established norms, must be amended.”

Mr. Jonathan like many other African leaders at the conference, said Nigeria was ‘disappointed’ with the ICC over its handling of matters affecting African leaders.

The president, who expressed Nigeria’s support for the existence of the ICC, said, “While the work of the International Criminal Court is immensely useful for the achievement of a world without crimes against humanity, genocide and other acts of impunity, it would be fair to say that in Africa today, the wave of democratization has engendered greater commitment to the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.”

He said the African Union and the ICC shared common principles on war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The president said his belief that both organisations share similar principles is “the reason why the refusal of the International Criminal Court to accede to the requests by our member-states for the deferral of the cases involving the President of Sudan, and now, the President and Deputy President of Kenya has left many of us in the African continent disappointed.”

Mr. Jonathan asked African countries to “maintain our unity and speak with one voice on Kenya,” and called for a reform of the ‘limitations’ of the Rome Statute governing the ICC.

Opponents of the kind of amendment sought by Mr. Jonathan, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, say granting such immunity would mean giving permission to African leaders to commit war crimes.

Many African leaders, including Nigeria’s, already enjoy immunity from all kinds of prosecution while in office.

Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution guarantees total immunity to Nigeria’s serving president and vice president from all kinds of prosecution. A weak and corrupt anti-crime and judicial system has also ensured that Nigerian leaders are not prosecuted even after leaving office.

Many Nigerians and civil society organisations have already called for an amendment or removal of that section of the constitution; which is already being considered by the House of Representatives in its ongoing constitutional amendment process.

Read President Jonathan’s full speech below.

STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN AT THE EXTRAORDINARY SESSION OF AFRICAN UNION HEADS OF STATE AND GOVERNMENT IN ADDIS ABABA, OCTOBER 12, 2013

Mr. Chairman,

Madam Chairperson of the Commission,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to participate in this meeting today on the subject of Africa’s relationship with the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Chairman,

While the work of the International Criminal Court is immensely useful for the achievement of a world without crimes against humanity, genocide and other acts of impunity, it would be fair to say that in Africa today, the wave of democratization has engendered greater commitment to the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.

Indeed, the Constitutive Act of our Union explicitly prohibits war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity with clear sanctions for violations. I am convinced that our Union and the International Criminal Court are united in our principles and objectives on these matters.

This is why the profound dissatisfaction that has been expressed about the Court’s relationship with Africa deserves the special attention that this Assembly is paying to it at this session.

It is also the reason why the refusal of the International Criminal Court to accede to the requests by our member-states for the deferral of the cases involving the President of Sudan, and now, the President and Deputy President of Kenya has left many of us in the African continent disappointed.

Many are concerned that the African Union’s principled position that African leaders should not be targeted by the ICC has been ignored, and that the ICC, despite its universal jurisdiction, seems to be devoting unusual energy and enthusiasm to the prosecution of cases from Africa, compared to cases from other parts of the world.

If the Court is concerned about this implied allegation of bias; it has not, in our opinion, taken enough pro-active steps to address it and allay the fears of concerned stakeholders. We think it should.

Mr. Chairman,

In our deliberations today, we must not lose sight of the legal identity of our Union relative to the obligations of States Parties of the Rome Statute. Thirty four (34) African countries, including Nigeria, are signatories to this Statute.

Given that not all members of the Assembly are signatories to it, it is important that we balance our interests in a manner that enables signatory and non-signatory members of our Union to express solidarity with one another on matters arising from their obligations. In this regard, it is important that we maintain our unity and speak with one voice on Kenya.

It will also be useful to point out the limitations of the Rome Statute, in order to strengthen the ICC and reposition it for greater fairness and equity in the discharge of its noble responsibilities. This Assembly should urgently call its members in the Assembly of States Party of the Statute, to mobilize requisite support to achieve reforms in the shortest time possible.

Our position is that certain Articles of the Rome Statute are of grave concern to Africa. In particular, Article 27 which denies immunity to all persons without regard to customary international law, conventions and established norms, must be amended.

Similarly, Articles 63 and 98 need close scrutiny and review. There is also the need to align Articles 27 and 98 with a view to bringing them in conformity with the tenets of customary international law, conventions and norms.

Mr. Chairman,

In expressing my support for Kenya on its difficulties with the ICC, I will like to acknowledge that five years after the post-election violence of 2007, the people of Kenya have proven to the world that they are capable of expressing their sovereign wishes in a free, fair and credible manner in accordance with democratic norms and values.

This is a clear demonstration to the world that the people of Kenya are in the best position to determine their own future and deal with their past.

To further consolidate this, I would like to urge the Kenyan Parliament to hasten its consideration of the Report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to facilitate the implementation of its recommendations in order to accelerate the process of national healing.

What remains is for the international community, in particular, the ICC, to give the elected leaders of Kenya the space to discharge their mandate in meeting the aspirations and needs of their people.

I thank you.

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