AU passport needs legal framework to work – Onyeama

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, has said that the soon-to-be launched AU passport may not achieve the desired result if it does not have legal framework to support it.

He said this in an interview with the News agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Kigali, Rwanda on the sidelines of the ongoing 27th Ordinary Session of the AU summit.

Onyeama said that lack of a legal framework might impede the aim of the passport because member states of the AU would not be bound to allow free movement into their countries without visas.

“We have to follow a legal framework to avoid uncertainties. An example was made of ECOWAS and that it should be seen as the ECOWAS passport but that cannot fully be the case.

“This is because the ECOWAS passport is hinged on a treaty that recognises free movement of peoples and each country has ratified that so the issuance of passport is just to give effect to what has been agreed by the countries.

“In the case of the AU there has been no treaties ratified by the member states accepting the concept of a continental free movement of peoples so if you are issuing this AU passport it has no legal base to it.

“So no country is obliged to accept it because no country has acceded and ratified a treaty in the regional continental framework allowing free movement of peoples and that is the problem,’’ he said.

He also said that there were indications that Heads of States at the last summit said the AU should go ahead and issue the passport.

He noted that declarations by Heads of States of AU countries does not have legal effect in the countries because every country has a rule and mechanism for giving effect.

“We (Nigeria) have a national assembly that has to domesticate and ratify such a treaty and it has to be signed allowing anyone that has this passport to come into the country.’’

The minister said that the objective of introducing such passport was noble in its entirety and could achieve the aim of regional and continental integration which includes free movement.

He noted that true integration is not limited to economic and political integration but also people to people integration.

He, however, said it all depended on what the passport was supposed to be and do, but that the issue of security, if such free movement is allowed, would be further discussed at the summit.

“The thing is this, the objective is free movement of people within Africa visa free.

“If it is to a certain extent symbolic as a way to prompt and push African countries to effect this integration then that is fine.

“But it is important to have legal certainty in this kind of things especially in this day and age where there are so many security issues to have a legal certainty about who has a legal right to cross borders into countries.’’

The passport, which will be launched at the ongoing summit, will be issued to Heads of states, Foreign Ministers and diplomats.

He said the summit would discuss on when the passport will be issued to other citizens of the continent.

On the issue of some African leaders calling for an en bloc withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to cases of non-satisfaction with its operations, Onyeama said that might not be the best way to go.

He said members join the ICC as sovereign countries so it might not be wise to want to move out en bloc.

“Some of the countries did not join the ICC as a bloc, each individual country chose or chose not to join and almost half of the AU members have not acceded to the ICC so it does not apply to them.

“Our (Nigeria) position is that the principle behind the ICC is one that we subscribe to which is why we acceded to it which is to hold to account leaders for their behaviour and that has not changed.

“We believe at the moment that if there are practices that we do not subscribe to, countries can have them modified within the court as members.

“And if we are no longer satisfied with the rules and regulations and practice then if there is going to be a withdrawal it should be as an individual country because we have a problem with it.

“But the idea of a collective withdrawal from something that you did not enter into collectively may not be the best way to go,’’ the minister said.

NAN reports that the summit which has its theme as “Year of the Human Rights’’ with particular focus on the rights of women began on Monday.

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