The AU model law on universal jurisdiction: an African response to western prosecutions based on the universality principle

06 January 2016

The African continent has been consistent in placing its concerns regarding the manner in which international criminal justice is administered on the international platform. For the past decade, the continent has minced no words about its misgivings concerning the use of universal jurisdiction (UJ) by both foreign States and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The African Union (AU) has been very supportive of UJ and its utility in fighting impunity and affording justice to victims of the core crimes of international law, namely, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Often referred to as core crimes, these are regarded as customary law crimes which are an affront to entire humankind. These crimes were also codified by the Rome Statute of the ICC. However, the political and selective use of the principle of universality by foreign States to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes was seen as causing conflicts and undermining peace efforts, reconciliation and regional stability. As a result the African continent voiced its concerns at various public platforms, including under the auspices of the UN and it therefore called for reforms. This prompted the AU to produce its own model law on UJ, which African States could adapt to their own socio-political circumstances and legal context. The debates that ensued around UJ on the African continent offered African States a chance to contribute to the development of international law, especially on the rules concerning UJ. This paper analyses the interaction amongst African states that eventually led to the development of UJ regulations within their individual legal systems, and tries to determine if there is indeed an African signature in those legal rules.