Kenya needs its leaders to focus, Africa officials tell ICC

2013-10-12 15:31

Nairobi – Kenya was “fragile” and could not afford to have the attention of its leaders distracted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) proceedings against them, the head of the African Union told a special session to discuss its relationship with the court.

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto face charges before the ICC of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during disputed presidential elections in 2007. More than 1 000 people died and an estimated 600 000 people were displaced in the violence.

Ruto’s trial opened in The Hague on September 10, while Uhuru’s trial is scheduled to start on November 12. The two leaders are calling for their trials to be postponed, arguing that running Kenya takes precedence.

Their stance comes amid growing disillusionment among Africans with a court that has so far tried only Africans. It also prompted the 54-member AU to convene a two-day extraordinary session Friday to discuss the ICC.

“The security situation in Kenya remains fragile,” said AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“We should therefore not allow Kenya to slide back for any reason ... This requires the undivided the attention of its leadership.”

Dlamini-Zuma called on the UN Security Council to defer the court proceedings so Uhuru and Ruto could do their work and went on to argue that elected leaders, in general, should enjoy immunity from prosecution. Such immunity, she noted, is common practice in Western countries for sitting officials.

The ICC also has a standing arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide in his country’s volatile Darfur region.

Dlamini-Zuma said Kenya is investigating the 2007 crimes and noted it has made steps to reform its judiciary. She also stressed African countries wanted to continue to cooperate with the ICC, which many African countries firmly supported when it was established in 1998.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who currently chairs the AU, said there had to be a way to cooperate with the ICC while the body respects African institutions.

“This is not just about Kenya, but definitely about the entire Africa. Our goal is not and should not be a crusade against ICC, but a solemn call for the organisation to take Africa’s concerns seriously,” he said.

“It is very unfortunate that the court has continued to operate in complete disregard of the concerns that we have expressed.”

For example, he noted that al-Bashir is working in Sudan to resolve the Darfur conflict.

AU officials said they would suggest a permanent consultative body to work with the UN Security Council on its ICC concerns.

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