African nations yesterday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to defer the crimes against humanity trials of Kenya’s leadership as they convened a special summit on their worsening relations with the tribunal.
The meeting at the African Union (AU) headquarters comes amid mounting tensions with the ICC, which has been accused of acting like a neo-colonialist institution that has singled out Africans since being set up as the world’s first permanent court to try genocide and war crimes.
In his opening speech, AU chairperson and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn alleged that the Hague-based tribunal “has continued to operate in complete disregard” of African governments.
“The unfair treatment that we have been subjected to is completely unacceptable,” he added, accusing the court of ignoring efforts in Kenya and Sudan — whose leaders have been indicted by the ICC — to resolve problems internally.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyan Vice President William Ruto have been charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly masterminding a vicious campaign of ethnic violence that left at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless after disputed 2007 elections.
Now allies and elected this year on a platform of national reconciliation, they argue the case is violating Kenyan sovereignty, undoing efforts at national reconciliation and hampering their running of the country.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who along with Kenyatta was among the heads of state attending the summit, is wanted by the court in The Hague on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sudan’s Darfur conflict.
The ICC so far has issued indictments linked to conflicts in nine countries, all of them in Africa. Diplomats with the 54-member AU say there was a sentiment the court — which is an independent body and not part of the UN system — was turning a blind eye to other parts of the world.
The AU bloc has been divided on the issue — with countries like Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda taking a tough line, but other nations seemingly reluctant to get embroiled in a diplomatic confrontation.
Kenya’s leadership has pledged to cooperate with the court, with Ruto’s trial underway and Kenyatta due in court on Nov. 12.