Kenya is canvassing support for a possible walkout by African states from the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose prosecution of elected Kenyan leaders has revived accusations on the continent that the court unfairly targets Africans.
The start last week of the trial for crimes against humanity of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial due in November, has stirred a growing backlash against the Hague-based court from some African governments, which see it as a biased tool of Western powers.
ICC prosecutors accuse Ruto and Kenyatta of fomenting ethnic bloodletting that killed about 1,200 people after a disputed election in Dec. 2007. They both deny the charge.
Kenya’s parliament voted on Sept. 5 to quit the ICC’s jurisdiction, and Nairobi is discussing with its neighbors and other governments a broad rejection by Africa of the ICC. This taps into African anger that the ICC has so far only prosecuted African accused — warlords, politicians and leaders — while ignoring alleged war crimes by global powers.
However, a lack of local alternatives, for which there is a shortage of both political will and financing, makes the ICC the only hope for many African victims seeking justice.
Some of Kenya’s east African neighbors are already backing calls by Ruto’s lawyers for him to be excused from attending all ICC hearings. Officials say suggestions are being made in the African Union (AU) for a pullout from the Hague court by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created it.
“There is a proposal in the African Union [AU], which will likely come in January, for all AU member countries to withdraw from the ICC because the court is seen to be targeting only African leaders,” Tanzania’s government spokesman Assah Mwambene said.
The walkout proposal could come even sooner, possibly at an extraordinary AU summit before the year end, following expected criticism of the ICC at the UN General Assembly this month.
Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Asuman Kiyingi said his country was unhappy about the way the ICC was “used by big powers to pursue certain selfish interests against African leaders.” He said Uganda could consider withdrawing.
However, such a move might not be unanimous. Officials from Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and South Africa, four of the AU’s biggest member states, said their governments had no plans so far to leave the ICC.
“It is clear the ICC needs to explore ways and means to fix its relationship with Africa, its biggest block of membership, otherwise many African states may follow the Kenyan move,” AU Political Commissioner Aisha Abdullahi said by e-mail.
ICC spokesman Fadi El-Abdallah said such pullouts would be a mistake.
“Withdrawals would not serve justice nor the interests of victims,” he said in a statement. He was confident African states would remain signatories to the Rome Statute.
When asked if he felt Kenya was garnering much support, a Western diplomat in Nairobi said: “A bit, but I am not convinced that we will see a mass walkout that they are talking about.”
Kenyatta and Ruto’s political alliance won Kenya’s March election, averting a repeat of the bloodshed six years ago. Some Kenyans fear the ICC process against their leaders could reignite violence and destabilize East Africa’s biggest economy.