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The panel was moderated by Erika de Wet, and speakers included James Gathii, Vincent O. Nmehielle, and Alexandrea Huneeus.
Erika de Wet in her opening statement mentioned that this particular question essentially arises in two main fields. First, the prosecution of certain international crimes in national courts. The second is about prosecuting grave crimes in both international and hybrid tribunals. In June 2014, the African Union adopted a treaty that would establish the regional court with jurisdiction over human rights, general and criminal matters including international and transnational crimes as well as corporate criminal liability. Since then, the African example has emboldened advocates for a regional criminal court to prosecute transnational organized crime in Latin America. These are all new developments in this field and the panel looks to examine these questions -- what are the implications of such practice for future prosecution of international crimes in any national or international courts, including the impact on the International Criminal Court and its 124 state parties.
James Gathii teaches at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He emphasized that the execution of global justice should be welcome in Africa. He stated the issue of African regionalization on criminal justice should not be defined by the relationship between the International Criminal Court and African leadership. There is indeed a demand for bringing about change in the global justice system, rather than dismissing the system entirely. There is need for a regional criminal justice system. This means that international criminal law should be the central and universal system that is being applied, even if among regional courts or national courts. Regionalization should not be understood as opposing the universal global justice norms. Sub-regional norms should be compatible and coexist with the global criminal justice norms, and thus, under this condition, the sub-regional criminal system should be welcome.
Vincent Nmehielle works at the African Development Bank. He answered the question reflected in the main theme of this panel -- does international law value regionalism -- by saying that it is not whether "it does or does not value regionalism." He noted that the answer is that "international law should value regionalism". A simple example is the Hissène Habré trial. That was put together by the members within the African Union, especially Senegal. He noted that the African Union had already passed a resolution ensuring the criminal jurisdiction to be given to the regional human rights courts in Africa before he was appointed. He stated that some academic criticism on such resolutions are un-informed because those criticisms fail to consider the reality of countries in the African Union. Regionalism is very important in supplementing international criminal justice system, especially given the ICC's limited jurisdiction.
Alexandrea Huneeus teaches at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She noted that her observation was based on her work with the Inter-America human rights system. She noted that Inter-American Court is a human rights court and it does not have criminal jurisdiction. A regional court acts less in response to emergency situations. Instead, it engages in more constant and domestic-level conversation, which is always an ongoing process. She also noted that human rights systems having a much broader scope compared with international criminal justice, which is also reflected in the Inter-American Human Rights court. In that sense, for example, the criminal prosecution and investigation going on in Colombia has a narrower scope and more focused criminal prosecution.
Erika briefly summarized the discussion and stated she agrees in principle that regionalism in Africa regarding criminal justice has extended beyond international criminal law and it is beneficial to the development of criminal justice, but she was also curious about the source of the push for regionalism. What is the catalyst (e.g., trade, human rights, political benefits, or other factors)?
Panelists responded by noting that there is a multidimensional struggle when it comes to regionalized criminal justice. When we seek accountability, it is better to look at whatever institution is available to achieve criminal justice. In that sense, the African Union and Inter-American regional systems should be given credit for new development (e.g., prosecuting non-state actors for crimes committed under international law, bringing the broader human rights approach into the criminal prosecution system).
Junteng Zheng is an international lawyer based in D.C., he studies and works on public international law and internaitonal criminal law.