The African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights: a regional general court with international criminal jurisdiction?
2012 is a year of reforms for regional human rights courts. Earlier this year, the Council of Europe adopted the Brighton Declaration reforming the European Court of Human Rights, while the Organization of American States started a process for strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System. Recently, the African Union (AU) took a further step in developing its regional legal bodies.
Ministers of Justice and Attorneys General of the AU Members States gathered in May for their annual meeting of legal matters in Addis Ababa. The purpose of this meeting was to expand the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights over international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as trafficking in hazardous wastes, illegal exploitation of natural resources and corruption. The meeting was concluded by the adoption of the Draft Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
The Draft Protocol was designed for the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (“the Merged Court”), which was initiated under the 2008 Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights merging the Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice into a single court. As of today, the political will to establish the Merged Court had been lacking and only three States have become party to the 2008 Protocol.
The Draft Protocol is to be examined for adoption by the next AU Assembly to be held in July, in Malawi. The Protocol would confer upon the to-be-established African Court of Justice and Human Rights the jurisdiction to convict and sentence individuals for international crimes, adding thereof a third-section along with the general affairs and the human rights sections of the Merged Court. If adopted, the Protocol would establish an unprecedented legal body in international law, with jurisdiction over inter-State affairs, human rights violations and individual criminal responsibility.