Kenya pushing for AU-split from ICC

iccAfrican leaders will debate the continent’s “relationship” with the International Criminal Court at a special summit on October 11, officials said Friday, amid growing opposition to the tribunal.

The 54-member African Union has accused The Hague-based ICC of singling out Africans for prosecution and has previously called for the court to drop crimes against humanity trials of Kenya’s leadership.

“They will discuss African relationship with ICC,” the deputy head of the AU’s executive branch, Erastus Mwencha, himself a Kenyan, told AFP.

Diplomats say member states of the court, which was founded primarily to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, are expected to discuss a possible united pullout from the ICC.

African countries account for 34 of the 122 parties to have ratified the Rome Statute, the court’s founding treaty, which took effect on July 1, 2002.

Mwencha said the cases of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were not specifically earmarked for discussion, saying only that the “agenda is very broad.”

Kenyatta and Ruto, as well as former radio boss Joshua Arap Sang, face crimes against humanity charges for their alleged roles in orchestrating ethnic violence after disputed 2007 elections. The violence left at least 1 100 dead and more than 600 000 homeless.

Last month, Kenyan lawmakers voted on a motion to withdraw recognition of the court’s jurisdiction.

Any move by the AU to leave the ICC’s Rome Statute will have no effect on the current trials, and pulling out is a lengthy process that must be done by nations on an individual basis.

The pan-African bloc in May accused the ICC of “hunting” Africans, and has requested that the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto be transferred to Kenya.

The trial of Ruto and Sang is already under way, and Kenyatta’s trial is set to begin in November. The three have pledged their cooperation with the court and maintain their innocence.

The ICC maintains that it is not targeting Africa as a continent, pointing out that many of the cases under investigation in Africa were referred to the court by the countries themselves.

It could lead to a breakdown in relations between the court and African leaders. Tensions between the African Union (AU) and the court (ICC) are nothing new, but the meeting in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopean capital, has the potential to irretrievably damage relations between them.

 

“The Kenyans were criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,” said one AU diplomat. “A complete walkout by signatories is certainly a possibility – but other requests are also possible.”

Ruto and Kenyatta have been seen as stalwarts in the fight against Islamic extremism and have argued that their absence for months on end, particularly in the case of Mr Kenyatta, is not just dangerous but also untenable.

It is not just Kenya that is promoting the anti-ICC agenda and pointing out that all eight cases it is investigating are in Africa.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, visited Kenya last month but was not arrested, despite an ICC request. He says the charges are “exaggerated” and describes the ICC as part of a “western plot” against him.

Last week, Ivory Coast’s government decided not to transfer former first lady Simone Gbagbo to join her husband in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the 2010 presidential election, and said it would try her at home.

Rwanda’s ambassador to the African Union, Joseph Nsengimana, observed: “It is not only the case of Kenya. We have seen international justice become more and more a political matter.”

President Jacob Zuma said it was the impression that the ICC was being “unreasonable” – that led directly to the Addis Ababa summit on October 13th.

Countries that support the court and its work, notably Botswana, are likely to do so again. Those who oppose it are hoping it will be “a game-changer”, most immediately perhaps in the case against Mr Kenyatta. – Sapa/AFP/Irish Times