The African Union (AU) on Monday accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of targeting Africans on the basis of race, demanding it end proceedings against Kenya’s president, who is accused of crimes against humanity.
“African leaders have come to a consensus that the [ICC] process... in Africa has a flaw,” AU Chairman and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said at the close of a summit of the 54-member bloc.
“The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity... but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting,” he told reporters.
A resolution urged the ICC to stop upcoming trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto for their alleged roles in orchestrating deadly violence after 2007 elections that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Many African leaders have said the ICC unfairly targets Africans, while ignoring war crimes suspects in other parts of the world.
The Hague-based court, set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, maintained it was not targeting Africa as a continent, saying that four out of eight situations under investigation in Africa were referred to the court by the countries themselves.
In addition, 34 African nations had ratified the ICC founding statute, it added.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the court “will not be reacting” to the AU resolution.
The resolution has no legal impact on ICC proceedings, but significantly boosts Kenyatta’s standing on the continent.
The Kenyan cases moved to the ICC after a failure to proceed in a domestic court, but the AU argued that Kenyan reforms, including a new constitution and revamped judiciary, meant they should now return.
“Now that Kenya has reformed its court ... things should be left to the court,” an AU spokesman said, calling the ICC “a court of last resort.”
It is the first time the pan-African body has formally moved against the international court, even though Kenyatta is the second African leader to face trial, after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The ICC resolution was adopted by consensus, except for Botswana and the Gambia — homeland of the ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the AU said.
It has sparked criticism from rights groups, with Amnesty International calling it a “worrying attempt by the Kenyan authorities to avoid justice.”
Human Rights Watch said efforts should continue “to press Kenya to put politics aside and let the ICC cases run their independent judicial course.”
Both Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges and have agreed to cooperate fully with the ICC.
At the summit, leaders also tried to tackle conflict and security concerns, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Mali and the Sahel region.
The AU also announced it would set up an emergency military force to quell conflict, amid frustration that a planned peacekeeping force was still not operational after a decade.
The AU’s “African Standby Brigade” to intervene in sudden crises — a proposed force of 32,500 troops and civilians — has stalled since preparations for it started a decade ago.
South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia have pledged troops to the proposed emergency force.
Funding issues were also addressed, after the death of key backer Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, with Hailemariam saying AU members should “be prepared to make sacrifices.”