Leaders at the new African Court of Justice and Human Rights voted during a closed meeting to give themselves and their allies immunity from prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Amnesty International, a human rights NGO, called the vote “a backward step in the fight against impunity,” as two sitting African presidents and another ousted president are facing international crime charges, The Associated Press reported.
“At a time when the African continent is struggling to ensure that there is accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, it is impossible to justify this decision, which undermines the integrity of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, even before it becomes operational,” Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay told AP.
Reporters were locked out of the African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea on Friday where the vote took place, Amnesty said. The “Protocol on Amendments” agreed upon included a paragraph that reportedly bars the court from prosecuting sitting African leaders and vaguely identified “senior officials.”
Forty-two African and international rights groups objected to the amendment, arguing in an open letter that it violates international and domestic laws as well as the constitution of the African Union, AP reported.