ICC rejects AU 'race hunt' claims

2013-05-30 13:30
Kenya's new president Uhuru Kenyatta. (File, AFP)

Kenya's new president Uhuru Kenyatta. (File, AFP)

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The Hague - The International Criminal Court hit back on Thursday at African Union claims that its investigations have degenerated into a "race hunt" amid debate about where Kenya's recently elected president and his deputy, who both are due to go on trial at the Hague-based tribunal, should face justice.

The court's prosecution office issued a statement Thursday stressing its independence and mandate to prosecute crimes only when national authorities are unwilling or unable to do so. It followed a statement Wednesday night by the court's presidency that said the ICC "strives to maintain good working relationships with all relevant international and regional bodies, including the African Union".

The two statements underscored the sensitivity of the court's relationship with Africa, which was highlighted Monday in Ethiopia when African Union chairman Hailemariam Desalegn said leaders believe that ICC prosecutions "have degenerated into some kind of race hunt" of Africans.

All ongoing ICC cases focus on crimes committed in Africa — in Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Libya and Mali — leaving it open to frequent criticism for its focus on only one continent.

The court's presidency responded to that criticism by pointing out that, "the majority of the Court's current investigations were initiated following referrals or requests from the African States in question." Two others — in Sudan and Libya — were sent to the court by the United Nations Security Council.

Kenya's challenge

The court also strongly rebutted claims of race-based prosecutions.

"Decisions are taken independently on the basis of the law and the available evidence and are not based on regional or ethnic considerations," the ICC presidency statement said.

At their summit this week, African Union leaders agreed to press the United Nations to move the cases against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to Kenya instead of The Hague.

The United Nations Security Council has the power to postpone cases at the ICC for a year, but has never exercised it.

Kenyatta and Ruto both face ICC trials for their alleged involvement in violence that erupted after Kenya's 2007 elections and left more than 1 000 people dead. They both insist they are innocent and have co-operated with the court by voluntarily appearing for hearings.

Prosecutors launched their investigation in Kenya in 2010 and Kenya challenged their jurisdiction a year later, but judges rejected Kenya's challenge and ruled that the prosecutions should continue in The Hague.

Meanwhile, the prosecution office said it is "ready to engage in any legal debate regarding its on-going cases in Kenya," but stressed that Kenya would have to persuade judges in The Hague to drop the case by proving to them that Kenyan authorities are conducting cases against the same suspects for the same crimes.

- AP
Read more on:    international criminal court  |  au  |  uhuru kenyatta  |  william ruto  |  kenya  |  east africa
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