'The appointment of African officials to senior offices at the ICC reflects the important role that individual Africans are playing in contributing to the success of the court and is of great significance to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening cooperation between the ICC and the AU. Our organizations hope that African states and the AU will lend their support to the newly elected ICC prosecutor, while fully respecting her independence.'So stated the "Letter to Foreign Ministers of African States Parties to the ICC" signed by nearly 3 dozen nongovernmental organizations based in 19 different African countries. Released Thursday, the letter seeks to prod leaders of African countries that have joined the International Criminal Court to discuss improvement of ICC-Africa relations during the 19th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, which will take place Sunday and Monday in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital that's home to the African Union's Secretariat. (Prior IntLawGrrls posts on Africa and the ICC available here.) (credit for map showing ICC states parties in green, signatories in yellow, and states that have neither joined nor signed the ICC treaty in grey)
The incoming senior officials to which the passage refers are Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, elected the ICC Prosecutor effective mid-2012, and Chile Eboe Osuji of Nigeria, who has been serving as Legal Advisor to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights and was elected an ICC judge in December.
Improvements recommended include:
► More meetings and "exchange of views" between officials of the African Union and the ICC;
► Establishment by the African Union of an ICC liaison office in Addis Ababa; and
► Fulfillment by states parties of their obligations under the ICC treaty to implement warrants and decisions of the court.
The letter urged further development of national justice systems so that they might pursue persons accused of the core crimes that ICC now prosecutes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – domestically, as envisaged by the ICC Statute's complementarity principle.
At the same time, the letter expressed concern about proposals to shift the ICC's Africa docket to a regional tribunal by simple expansion of the competence of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, an entity in the process of being established, pursuant to a 2008 agreement, by merger of 2 pre-existing regional courts. The NGOs wrote:
'Notably, the African Court already faces serious challenges implementing its current mandate and giving it jurisdiction over a distinct type of offenses (crimes under international law committed by individuals, as opposed to human rights violations by states) would require significant time to establish new expertise and a vast overhaul in the way the court is currently set-up.'