Africa takes charge of justice for Africans

Through Habré’s conviction, the EAC has created a new norm that Africa can handle its own problems

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By Antony Mutunga

Africa, over the years, has seen its people suffer from needless wars, genocides and terrorism caused by greedy individuals who have mostly survived the ordeals they caused and profited from them. These individuals, mostly heads of state, rebel leaders and top government officials, live luxurious, punishment-free lives without a care about the hideous crimes they have orchestrated. As some individual countries fail to try these people in court, the loud cries for justice from the victims get louder each day.

As victims almost gave up after years of unanswered cries, a glimpse of hope appeared as the Rome Statute was ratified, formally establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 1, 2002, making it part of the global justice system. The ICC was given the mandate to handle international cases that dealt with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.

The victims of these atrocious crimes were relieved as they knew the court would seek justice on their behalf. But alas! The court had regulations that left most victims feeling that the court was not helpful in a way. The ICC had one major flaw; it could only handle crimes that were committed after July 1, 2002. These meant that all the crimes done before this date, and all the individuals involved, would never account.

To make matters worse, it has been 14 years since the court was established and so far only 32 people have been indicted; out of these, only two have been convicted. It has also been claimed that the court is biased towards Africa, which has caused African leaders to lose faith in the court and want to withdraw from it.

In a bid to find African solutions to African problems in terms of Justice, the African Union came into an agreement with Senegal in 2012 to create what came to be known as the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC). The court was established with the aim of trying any crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990 whereby the ex head of state, Hissène Habré, was the center of the case.

The court, located in Dakar, Senegal, is comprised of four chambers, which include an Investigative Chamber, an Indicting Chamber, a Trial Chamber, and one Appeals Chamber, all attached to Dakar Court of Appeals.

This was the first court in the African continent to be given universal jurisdiction to try a former head of state from a different country. The court was given the mandate to handle matters that involved crimes against humanity, genocides, torture as well as war crimes. The EAC had some powers equal to those of the ICC, with some even stating that it was better as it brought about the sense of “African solutions to African problems”.

The EAC, in May 2016 brought about a sense of justice to the Chadians as it successfully charged Hissène Habré for his atrocious crimes. The court not only brought about justice to the victims but also created a new norm that Africa can handle its own problems.

This sent a clear message to individuals that were involved in these crimes that the law was catching up to them. It has also proved more effective compared to the ICC by handling a case going as far as 1982. This fact has struck fear into leaders that have blood on their hands as more people are likely to be charged.

As the success of the national court looks like a promising start, it also goes to show how difficult it is to try and prosecute these leaders. The court, however, efficient has some drawbacks as its jurisdiction does not allow it to try people who hold office. This causes most African leaders to want to remain in office till death or till they are evicted by force, to ensure they are not taken to court for said crimes.

The victory on the behalf of the victims of Hissène Habré reign has put the EAC in the spotlight as more people demand justice. To respond to this need, the African union needs to fight for justice more vigorously to ensure that the victims have a sense of justice and also to stop such crimes from ever happening.

The EAC is a right step in the start of a long journey, and it is too soon for African states to use this as an excuse to call for an exit from the International Criminal Court. While Africa, through the EAC, has showed its will to enforce international justice, before it makes a decision on the ICC, it should at first proceed with caution and consider what other successes the EAC has in the future.

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