TJ Monitor: Opportunities for victims of conflict with new African Court

The African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) is a merger of The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and The Court of Justice of The African Union as stated in Article 2 of the protocol on the statute of the African court of Justice and Human Rights.

The formation of this court in 2008 was a commitment of Member States of the African Union to promote peace, security and stability on the Continent and to protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant instruments relating to human rights. Although, the Court is yet to become functional (it needs 15 ratifications to come into force, but has only received five so far from Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Congo), there has been discussion about expanding its jurisdiction to cover serious international crimes in the way that the ICC and other international tribunals do.

So what does this mean for victims of conflict on the African continent?

The proposal of an indigenous human rights court comes on the heels of calls for localised solutions to “African problems”, as an alternative to international tribunals like the ICC. It was also hoped that this court will administer justice on the African continent especially given the history of mass violence and crimes  that have been committed there.

What are the opportunities for TJ?

This new court is also an opportunity to address the criticisms that have been leveled over the years towards its predecessors, the ICC as well as other international tribunals, for and on behalf of victims and survivors of conflict.

These criticisms include a lack of consultation on the views of victims, a lack of accessibility for victims, challenges to do with witness protection, and a lack of effectiveness of the court. In this respect, an African court could, for example, make it easier for victims on the continent to access and participate in court proceedings. It could also allow for linkages with other national transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions and reparations. Localised outreach to communities affected by conflict could also address claims that international tribunals and courts, who are often not exposed to what happens in criminal proceedings trying matters related to them.

Foreseeable challenges include a possible lack of independence of the court (the AU has already been criticised for reportedly voting for a provision to grant immunity to African heads of state by the Court) and questions about political will amongst the leadership in Africa to ensure that this court will succeed.

Ultimately, if the new African court is to support the needs and interests of victims of conflict, it needs to fill the gaps left by existing national and international courts and tribunals.