International Justice in Africa: Defining Authority and Localizing the Global
iCourts Working Paper Series No. 86
17 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 15, 2017
When discussions about international law and justice in Africa arise, the narrative is generally predictable. Africa is commonly characterized as a continent that is unable to meet international standards in this domain and thus requires intervention from the outside to insure accountability for serious crimes and the protection of human rights. Commentary on the relationship between the International Criminal Court and its African member states tends to exemplify this narrative.
This paper argues that the African continent should instead be seen as the source of many innovative strategies for applying globally accepted legal principles at the local level. This can be seen in the domain of international criminal justice, as well as in the work of regional human rights bodies and courts of regional integration, the latter proving themselves surprisingly activist in the sphere of human rights protections. In order to better analyze this phenomenon, the framework on the variable authority of international courts, developed by Karen Alter, Laurence Helfer, and Mikael Rask Madsen, is applied to the African justice context.
This paper concludes that the sometimes exceptional judicial configurations, practices and interpretations found in Africa should be recognized internationally for what they are: expressions of a significant consensus on the part of African legal practitioners, jurists, and activists – if not always the authorities – about the need to protect fundamental human rights and challenge impunity on the African continent.
Keywords: international courts; authority; human rights; Africa
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