Sierra Leonean human rights lawyer Alpha Sesay has urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to rethink its engagement with Africa as the Court celebrates 20 years of the adoption of its founding instrument, the Rome Statute. He was on a panel of eminent international justice experts and scholars including the Court’s first Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo invited at the program in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute.
Sesay, an Advocacy Officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative and a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program made the call last week while delivering a speech before faculty, students and other international law experts at Harvard University in the United States.
Speaking on the legal and political challenges between the ICC and the African Union (AU), Sesay said recent efforts by the AU to address its concerns through legal submissions instead of political rhetoric present a new paradigm shift in the AU’s approach to the ICC. This effort, he pointed, might present a great opportunity for a more constructive engagement between the two institutions in the future.
The human rights Lawyer who worked with the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown and in The Hague called on the ICC to engage other AU institutions with human rights mandates including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Pan African Parliament and the Peace and Security Council of the AU.
“The ICC could engage these institutions on some of the common issues on which they can find agreement especially in terms of respect for human rights and preventing atrocity crimes, and build on these positive engagements to reshape their relationship going forward.”
He also encouraged the ICC to develop a long-term approach to relationship building in Africa and support national justice systems to address atrocity crimes as part of the Court’s complementarity regime.
The International Justice expert also emphasized the need for the Court to look at the challenges it has had with Africa and African states, learn lessons from these challenges and use them as an opportunity to reshape the future.
Since the Court was established in 2002, Africa has been the main theatre of judicial activity for the Court. While African states, including Sierra Leone, played a crucial role in the establishment of the Court, the AU has over the years expressed several concerns about the Court’s activities. At some point, news about the Court’s work was dominated mainly by its relationship with the AU.
Mr Sesay is credited for establishing the Fourah Bay College Human Rights Clinic while he was a student at the University. He later went on to
establish The Special Court Monitoring Program, an institution that transitioned itself to the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) after the operations of the Special Court ended.
He is currently undertaking research as well as teaching and mentoring students interested in pursuing careers in human rights at Harvard Law School.