South Africa’s Exercise of Universal Jurisdiction

An Analysis of the Supreme Court Decision in the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service and Another v Southern Africa Human Rights Litigation Centre and others (2013)

Saidat Nakitto

On 27 November 2013 the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa affirmed the decision of the High Court that South Africa’s Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 2002 (icc Act) empowered South African officials to initiate investigations into crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe in the absence of the perpetrators in South Africa. This decision was in response to the true interpretation of section 4(3)(c) of the icc Act providing for universal jurisdiction. This paper examines the judgment of this Court, arguing that though customary international law is silent on the requirement for presence of the perpetrators for initiation of investigation, the Court should have given proper examination of this section by taking into consideration of the previous presence of some of the perpetrators in South Africa after the alleged crimes were committed.

Manisuli Ssenyonjo and Saidat Nakitto

On 27 June 2014 the African Union (au) Assembly adopted a protocol entitled ‘Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights’. This Protocol contains an annex entitled ‘Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights’. The Protocol and the Statute annexed to it provide for the establishment of a regional court in Africa to be known as the ‘African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights’ (African Court). This Court will, among others, exercise criminal jurisdiction over a wide range of international crimes involving individual criminal responsibility and corporate criminal liability over legal persons (with the exception of States), which goes beyond any other international court or hybrid tribunal. This article considers reasons for establishing a regional court in Africa with criminal jurisdiction and examines the likely effectiveness of the African Court focussing on the wide jurisdiction conferred on the Court; the impact of immunity from criminal prosecution granted to serving au heads of State and other undefined ‘senior State officials’; and the need to strengthen national criminal jurisdictions to enable them to prosecute international crimes in Africa.