African Justice mechanisms and their interplay with the International Criminal Court

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The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability and the Wayamo Foundation organised their first international symposium at the University of Cape Town

UPDATE: For more, watch the documentary and download the symposium report.

The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability (AGJA), an independent group of senior African experts on international criminal law and human rights, concluded its recent three-day symposium in Cape Town, which was attended by over one 150 experts on international criminal justice, human rights activists, academics and practitioners in the field of international law, by pledging to continue promoting justice and accountability in Africa through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and domestic judicial mechanisms trained and equipped to investigate and prosecute international crimes.

The three-day symposium analysed the crucial aspects of national, regional and international justice, as well as the role of its main players.


Topics included:

  • The ICC-Africa relationship
  • African domestic and regional solutions for grave crimes
  • Human rights in Africa
  • Transnational criminal law and its links to core international crimes
  • Designing reparations for victims
  • The role of NGOs in international crime investigations
  • The hotly debated topic of Head of State immunity.

The symposium ended on March 24 with an open forum at which the AGJA members informed the audience of their plans and asked for feedback.

Judge Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, mentioned that African states tended to use the Court for their own interests but became nervous when it targeted the leaders themselves. He also alluded to the African Union’s adoption of a critical ICC stance, “completely ignoring the interests of hundreds of thousands of victims of war crimes.” The time had come, he said, for civil society to become much more active in ensuring that South Africa did not leave the ICC, and added that, “we should be drumming up support” across the continent for the role of Africa in the ICC.

For her part, Fatiha Serour, Africa Group member and Director of Serour Associates for Inclusion and Equity, supported the role of meaningful civil society engagement, which she considered “non-negotiable.”

The Attorney General of Botswana Athaliah Molokomme, shared some of the immediate action points that the Group had decided upon, insisting that, “We would like to engage immediately with the African Union”. Aside from projected activities in West Africa, there was a need for practical capacity-building events in African countries which had international crime divisions.

“We intend to use our activities, networks and links to enhance issues of justice and accountability on the African continent,” she concluded.


Several members of the audience commented on the AGJA’s possible role and suggested that, for the Group to become an important player in African criminal justice circles, it needed to establish an online forum for interaction, provide impartial empirical research on the work of the ICC, undertake more outreach in countries with generalised misperceptions about the ICC, engage with the UN Security Council, and continue the effort to demystify the role of the ICC and its relationship with Africa. They also tasked the Group with preparing a platform for ICC-AU dialogue.

Human rights activist, lawyer and AGJA member, Femi Falana reminded the audience that the issue of the Court’s integrity had already been addressed by the President of the ICC Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi in her keynote speech to the Symposium when she had said that preliminary investigations were being undertaken in other areas of the world, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Ukraine and Palestine, and that a new investigation had recently begun in Georgia. Falana went on to point out that this would “challenge the allegation that this Court is basically out to harass and embarrass leaders of African countries.”

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay concluded the Group’s remarks by reaffirming that, “we firmly believe that justice and accountability on the African continent and elsewhere are better served by positive engagement with the ICC.”

In the lead-up to the symposium, the Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability, also co-hosted a two-day high-level meeting of Directorates of Criminal Investigations, Public Prosecutions and Heads of International Crime Units from across Africa, with participants from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, the Palestinian Authority, the ICC, and Interpol. The meetings focused on the issue of “Establishing domestic units for international and transnational crimes” and developed a plan for further capacity building to enable such crimes to be better addressed and adjudicated.


Background: The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability was established in 2015 to support efforts to strengthen justice and accountability measures in Africa through domestic and regional capacity building, advice and outreach, and enhancing co-operation between Africa and the International Criminal Court. in line with its stated mission to spread understanding and promote open dialogue regarding justice and accountability measures in Africa, the symposium represented its first bi-annual public engagement of 2016. The events took place at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and were made possible by the generous support of the Foreign Ministries of Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Finland.

The Africa Group is an independent group of senior African experts on international criminal law and human rights, namely:

  • Dapo Akande (Nigeria)   Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford
  • Femi Falana (Nigeria)   Human rights activist and lawyer
  • Hassan Bubacar Jallow (Gambia)   Former Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals
  • Richard Goldstone (South Africa)   Former Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia
  • Tiyanjana Maluwa (Malawi)   H. Laddie Montague Chair in Law, Pennsylvania State University School of Law; Former Associate Dean for International Affairs, School of Law & Director, School of International Affairs
  • Athaliah Molokomme (Botswana)   Attorney General of Botswana
  • Betty Kaari Murungi (Kenya)   Independent Consultant on Human Rights and Transitional Justice
  • Mohamed Chande Othman (Tanzania)   Chief Justice of Tanzania
  • Navi Pillay (South Africa)   Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Catherine Samba-Panza (Central African Republic)   Former President of the Central African Republic
  • Fatiha Serour (Algeria)   Director of Serour Associates for Inclusion and Equity
  • Abdul Tejan-Cole (Sierra Leone)   Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa