ICC against plan to defer Kenya trials
Addis Ababa - The president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said he is against Kenya's push to have the trials of post-election violence suspended, but backed plans for a local court to try them.
Senior Kenyan officials have been on a charm offensive seeking support from African presidents in persuading the United Nations Security Council - which helped set up the ICC and regularly discusses the activities and mandate of the court - to defer or suspend the trials until the local court is set up.
Christian Wenaweser, President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is in Kenya to meet government officials to discuss the ICC's concerns over a push by Kenya to block The Hague trials.
Before travelling to Kenya, Wenaweser met Jean Ping, the head of the African Union (AU) Commission, in Ethiopia to discuss Kenya's drive, spearheaded by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.
Musyoka met Ping last Friday, after saying Kenya had won support for its plan from several capitals around the continent.
"I emphasised to him (Ping) to declare that if the wish of the Kenyan government was to establish national proceedings, to investigate and prosecute as they have stated repeatedly, that would be something that from state parties' perspective would certainly be welcomed," Wenaweser told Reuters.
Wenaweser said he discussed with Ping that the issue did not require the intervention of the United Nations Security Council, and that it should be taken up directly with the ICC.
"This (requesting article 16 resolution from the UN Security Council) is not the course of action that I would have advocated," said the head of the political arm of the ICC.
Kenya's plan, which has been criticised by rights groups across Africa who say it will undermine justice for the victims of the violence, is to win the backing of the AU heads of states at a summit starting on January 30 in Addis Ababa.
The east African country wants the AU to invoke article 16 of the Rome Statute that established The Hague court, and request the Security Council to defer the ICC trials, mirroring a previous attempt by the AU to seek the suspension of a case against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The AU request was rejected by the Security Council, which has not previously deferred an ICC investigation or prosecution.
The ICC has issued a warrant for Bashir's arrest for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. The African Union has told its members not to co-operate with the ICC over Bashir.
Kenya argues it needs time to pass laws meant to revamp the judiciary and appoint a new Chief Justice as required under its new constitution promulgated in August, enabling the country to establish a local court or tribunal to try the cases.
Previous attempts to establish a local tribunal under the old constitution were blocked by Kenya's parliament, triggering the ICC's referral of the case to The Hague.
Prominent among the six Kenyan suspects are Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, the higher education minister who has been suspended to fight a corruption case.
The AU, which said last Friday during the visit by Musyoka to Addis Ababa that it was focused on combating impunity, has urged Kenya to work closely with the ICC over the trials.
"We haven't called for Kenya to ignore the ICC ... Kenya is in the process of setting up a judiciary which was not functioning to the confidence of the people before this constitution was put in place," the commission's deputy chairman, Erastus Mwencha, told Reuters.
"Kenya is now saying directly (it wants) to set up a system that can enable it to try those individuals, and if the ICC will give them that opportunity then they will try (them). They have given the indication that they will work with the ICC."