Why AU leaders will not back sanctions against Kiir, Machar

Monday July 18 2016

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right)  with South Sudan President Salva Kiir hold talks on the sidelines of the 25th AU Summit at Sandton International Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa. PHOTO | FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with South Sudan President Salva Kiir hold talks on the sidelines of the 25th AU Summit at Sandton International Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa. PHOTO | FILE 

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Leaders from across the continent who gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, for the 27th African Union Summit predictably devoted a lot of time to the crisis in South Sudan, that, within a few short days, saw more than 300 people slaughtered.

Concerns over the situation in the sad country were also echoed at a concurrent meeting in Kigali by leaders drawn from the eastern African grouping, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad).

Leaders expressed deep concern over the fighting between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar.

They backed an earlier resolution in Nairobi by the Igad Council of Ministers, including proposals from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for sanctions targeting those held responsible for the violence, as well as an arms embargo, a strengthened UN peacekeeping mission, and deployment of a regional protection force to separate the warring parties.

Empty words. African leaders will not adopt any resolutions that would have Salva Kiir and Riek Machar held accountable for killing their own people.

The leaders from the region most engaged in efforts to make the two South Sudanese belligerents see sense are Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.

Those are exactly the same fellows who have been at the forefront of that loud campaign to guarantee for benefit of themselves and fellow African leaders immunity from arrest and prosecution in the event that they committed genocide and mass murder against their own people.

President Salva Kiir and his deputy and rival warlord Riek Machar will not see sense unless it is made clear that they will be held personally responsible for the killings in their country.

The big stick that can be held over them is the threat of arrest and prosecution for crimes against humanity, whether that be before the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal on South Sudan that may be set up by the United Nations on the lines of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Without that threat, the South Sudan leaders will continue to kill their people with impunity, knowing that their brother-leaders will not countenance the triggering of an international justice mechanism that might touch fellow members of the African Union confederacy of warlords, dictators and looters.

The African Union campaign for immunity and impunity was launched in reaction to the ICC charges facing our own President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

But even after the deeply flawed prosecution collapsed, the African leaders continue with the campaign to confer immunity on themselves, so that they retain unfettered right to rob, loot, rape, plunder and brutalise their own people.

They are planning a mass African walkout from the ICC on the excuse that the AU’s own African Court on Human and People’s Rights is competent to handle such cases.

That is a big lie, because the immunity African leaders demand still applies to the African court, and because a bench composed of judges appointed by the Heads of State will not dare take up cases against the appointing authorities.

It is notable that Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, as well South Sudan, are among the countries that have refused to ratify a proposal that would allow individuals from AU member-states to directly file cases at the African Court.

Another lie is that domestic courts also have jurisdiction to handle such matters. One can imagine what would happen to a policeman or prosecutor in South Sudan who tries to haul Salva Kiir before a court.

Even for counties such as Kenya that are pretending to establish international crimes courts, the stark reality is that no policeman or prosecutor would ever dare try, investigate and indict a powerful political figure.

The Constitution confers immunity for the president while in office, but the law and order mechanism in practise extends that immunity to the deputy president, and onwards to members of their families and close political and business associates.

The killers in South Sudan can look at neighbouring countries and recognise all the empty posturing. They will continue slaughtering their people, because they know African leaders give themselves licence to kill.

[email protected]; @MachariaGaitho