Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An African Union 1st

A weekend summit ended in the wee hours today, and from it emerged the 1st woman leader of the African Union.
She is Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (right), a physician and longtime public official in South Africa. Dlamini-Zuma narrowly won in her contest against the incumbent Chair of the African Union Commission. That would be Gabon's Jean Ping, an outspoken opponent of the International Criminal Court.
The election marked the 2d go-round for these candidates: as we then posted, in January neither garnered the necessary 2/3 vote. As late as this weekend, continued impasse seemed likely, with voting seemingly divided between the English- and French-speaking portions of Africa. The report of "'a definite sense of relief'" after Sunday's vote thus come as no surprise.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was the site of this year's summit. It had long been set for Malawi, but the AU pulled out after that country made clear that Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, was not welcome to come and go on account of his indictment by the ICC. (prior post)
The summit, indeed, began with talk of the ICC, the permanent court launched at Rome 14 years ago today. It too has new leadership, including Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, sworn in just 4 weeks ago.
Specifically, there was a proposal to give criminal jurisdiction to Africa's regional human rights system. One report quoted Justice Gérard Niyungeko of Burundi, the President of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, as saying:
'An African court trying Africans will be more aware of the cultural, social environment and context of the crimes themselves.'
In a separate report, a representative of a Kenya-based NGO was quoted very differently; he called the plan "a sideshow that will not succeed." No post-summit reports indicate that the idea came to a vote at Addis Ababa, in any event.
All this provokes a question that only time will answer:
Will the advent of a new AU leader and a new ICC Prosecutor jumpstart a new relationship between the two institutions?

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