Human Rights activists in Zimbabwe have condemned a controversial decision by the African Union to exempt sitting heads of Sate from prosecution by a proposed human rights court and urged African Union member States to reject the impunity clause.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum commemorations of the Africa Human Rights Day, Lloyd Kuvheya, a senior Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) warned that the impunity arrived at in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea would encourage African Presidents to hold onto power indefinitely to avoid prosecution.
Zimbabwe’s own Robert Mugabe is the world’s fifth longest-ruling leader and African heads of state make up four of the top five world’s longest ruling leaders.
“The African leaders know that the moment they relinquish power, justice will catch up with them. This is perhaps the reason why in Africa we have the phenomenon of seat-tied presidents,” Kuvheya said.
The amendment is viewed as a major set back in ensuring accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses. “It undermines the integrity of the ACJHR before it is operationalised. Furthermore, it is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of Article 4 of the AU Constitutive Act, which rejects impunity and promotes the respect for human rights,” Kuvheya said.
African leaders have been fingered out in violations of human rights and are not accountable to the people. The rest of the world is stepping up efforts in fighting impunity and making leaders accountable.
Human Rights Watch Southern Africa Director Tiseke Kasambala said besides the impunity clause the amendments in Malabo were the most progressive compared to other instruments used in the world and said “it could create African solutions to African problems.”
She however bemoaned the lack of resources that African leaders pour to support human rights institutions.
“Our leaders are not serious. They are only serious about protecting themselves. They have not taken human rights institutions seriously. The heads of State have not explained how the court will be resourced to ensure it is effective and efficient. I urge African member states to reject the impunity clause,” Kasambala said.
Proponents to the immunity clause argue that guarantees of immunity might foster cooperation by African leaders with the court to abide by its decisions.
The African Court of Justice and Human Rights is intended to replace the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights (ACHPR). The court is to become the main judicial organ of the African Union and predominant human rights court for the African continent.
Speaking on how national laws foster cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, Dzimbabwe Chimbga of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Zimbabweans should push for accountability from their leaders.
He said the failure by Harare to align its laws with the new constitution was deliberate as, “Zanu PF has no interest in aligning the laws with the constitution and they would rather change the constitution.”
He said Zimbabweans should take the government to court for any law that is inconsistent with the constitution.