African leaders stop short of withdrawing from Hague court

Certain leaders accuse International Criminal Court of disproportionately targeting African leaders

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta  talks to Kenyan delegates about Africa’s relationship with the International Criminal Court, in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, at the weekend.  Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta talks to Kenyan delegates about Africa’s relationship with the International Criminal Court, in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, at the weekend. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 01:00


African leaders stopped short of withdrawing their nations from the International Criminal Court (ICC) this weekend, but they rallied around Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and demanded a deferral of his trial at the Hague-based court next month.

The African Union (AU) extraordinary summit in Ethiopia reportedly discussed the idea of a withdrawal from the ICC, but a motion to do so never materialised at the end of the two days of talks in Addis Ababa.

Nevertheless, a number of leaders accused the court of disproportionately targeting African leaders, as all of the cases it is prosecuting are drawn from the continent.

Mr Kenyatta, charged with crimes against humanity relating to post-election violence in Kenya in 2007, delivered a fiery speech in which he said everyone but Africa is “exempt from accountability” at the ICC.

‘Farcical pantomime’
“The ICC has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims,” he said.

Securing a withdrawal from the ICC, which was touted by analysts before the summit as a goal of some African nations, would have seriously damaged the credibility of the ICC and its ability to progress the eight cases it is investigating in Africa.

Human rights supporters across Africa had urged their leaders not to agree to such a proposal in the days leading up to the summit. Thirty-four of the AU’s 54 members have signed up to the ICC.

In a number of newspapers last week Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a licence to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence.”

Deferral of trial

While the notion of withdrawing from the ICC never gained sufficient traction, AU chairman Hailemariam Desalegn said leaders had passed a unanimous decision that continental heads of state could not be prosecuted while in power. The AU asked Kenya to write to the United Nations Security Council asking for a deferral of Mr Kenyatta’s trial.

Mr Desalegn said that if a one-year deferral was not granted, the AU would ask for a postponement of Mr Kenyatta’s trial. If that request is turned down, then the AU would fall back on its decision to not allow sitting heads of state to be prosecuted.