Proposals to grant sitting African leaders immunity from prosecution for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity will completely undermine the integrity of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, even before it becomes operational, Amnesty International said.
In an open letter Amnesty International called on African Union (AU) heads of state and government meeting in Equatorial Guinea this week not to adopt a proposed amendment which would grant immunity from prosecution to sitting government leaders and senior officials in the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
"After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the world committed itself to ensuring that such an atrocity could never happen again. This commitment rings hollow in the face of efforts to shield from prosecution senior African politicians who are and may be responsible for serious atrocities including mass murder, torture, rape, or the displacement of entire communities," said Netsanet Belay Amnesty International's Africa Director.
"If this amendment is adopted it will also call into question the African Union's commitment to its declared goal of ensuring justice for victims of serious crimes under international law."
The Draft Protocol on Amendments to the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights extends the Court's jurisdiction over crimes under international law.
The proposed amendment to the Draft Protocol will preclude the prosecution before the Court of a sitting head of state or government or other senior official, suspected of committing acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Irrespective of the decision on this by the AU, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will retain the right to investigate serving African heads of state and government.
"It is vital that those responsible for atrocities must face justice, irrespective of their official positions. The adoption of this amendment would be a tremendous backward step in the long battle for accountability and human rights on the continent," said Netsanet Belay.
"How African leaders vote on this crucial amendment at the AU summit this week will provide a litmus test of leadership for each and every African government."
The proposed amendment to Article 46A bis of the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights reads: "No charges shall be commenced or continued before the Court against any serving African Union Head of State or Government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity, or other senior state officials based on their functions, during their tenure of office."
Amnesty International is calling for the amended Article 46A bis to be rejected and replaced with a provision such as that contained in Article 27 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Such a provision would deny immunity to heads of state and government or any other senior government official, if they are suspected of having committed and/or been complicit in the commission of a serious crime under international law, including acts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offences contained in the Draft Protocol on Amendments to the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
The African Court of Justice and Human Rights will merge the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights with the Court of Justice of the African Union and will have expanded criminal jurisdiction over international crimes.
The decision whether to approve the amendment to the Draft Protocol is scheduled for 27 June.