African Court rules out trying ICC-indicted Kenya President

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The African Union Court on Human and People’s Rights has no jurisdiction to handle crimes against humanity charges facing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, its president said on Sunday.

Lady Justice Sophia Akuffo, however, said there were plans by the 54-member African Union to expand the court’s jurisdiction.

Speaking to journalists at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Nairobi, Lady Justice Akuffo, who is Ghanaian said a recommendation on the expansion of the court’s work is expected to be tabled before the AU Heads of State summit in January 2014 before being put to a vote.

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“A team of experts is working on the recommendation,” she said.

Among the issues the experts are deliberating on is the definition of an unconstitutional change of government following the Arab Spring that swept through Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

An AU summit had proposed that the court be strengthened to handle the cases facing President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, who are being prosecuted at The Hague in Netherlands, among others.

But on Sunday, Lady Justice Akuffo said the court as presently constituted could not handle criminal cases.

“We are only a court of human and people’s rights. However, if expanded, the African Court will be a different thing altogether,” she said.

 

Local remedies

The judge said that charges are not brought against individuals in the African Court. It encourages exhaustion of local remedies before issues are taken to it, she added.

She said handling criminal cases has financial implications, requires legal structures, protection of witnesses, incarceration and custody of people while standing trial.

Lady Justice Akuffo, who was accompanied by a Togolese colleague on the court, Justice Kimelabalou Aba, said her court does not have a legal relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We are completely different institutions. The ICC has criminal jurisdiction yet we don’t. However, when we are expanded we will have that relationship. Currently, we have a relationship with the [Banjul-based Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights]”, said Lady Justice Akuffo.

The court — which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, and is currently handling a Kenyan case involving the marginalised Ogiek community — said protection of human rights is the state’s responsibility.

Seeks declaration

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights officials are in Kenya to enhance human rights protection in the country through raising awareness about the court’s functions, its jurisdiction and procedures before it.

They will hold discussions with various government officials with a view to encouraging the State to make a declaration allowing individuals and NGOs direct access to the court.

The court was established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

It complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

The court was established through Article 1 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

To date, only the following states have ratified the protocol: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Comoros, Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.-africareview.com

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