Kenya pushing for African split from International Criminal Court

African Union summit of 54 states threatens to lead to rift with The Hague

A special African Union summit this month could lead to a breakdown in relations with the International Criminal Court, amid claims that the trials of the Kenyan president and his deputy in The Hague are fresh proof that the court is "hunting" African leaders.

Tensions between the African Union (AU) and the court (ICC) are nothing new, but the meeting in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopean capital, has the potential to irretrievably damage relations between them.

Kenya’s parliament voted on September 5th to leave the ICC, and it will be lobbying at the 54-country summit for a mass withdrawal by the 34 remaining AU members, or alternatively for a two-thirds majority instructing those countries to end their co-operation with the court.

“The Kenyans were criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,” said one AU diplomat. “A complete walkout by signatories is certainly a possibility – but other requests are also possible.”


Among those other possibilities is a repeat of the AU request to have the trials of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto and of President Uhuru Kenyattaif not stopped then at least moved to Nairobi.

Crimes against humanity
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto deny committing crimes against humanity by organising campaigns of ethnic cleansing and murder in which more than 1,300 people died following Kenya's disputed 2007 general election.

Both men have been seen as stalwarts in the fight against Islamic extremism following the Westgate killings, and have argued that their absence for months on end, particularly in the case of Mr Kenyatta, is not just dangerous but also untenable.

Despite denials by the ICC that it disproportionately targets African leaders for prosecution, and its insistence that it stands up for victims wherever it finds them, it is not just Kenya that is promoting the anti-ICC agenda and pointing out that all eight cases it is investigating are in Africa.

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, visited Kenya last month but was not arrested, despite an ICC request. He says the charges are “exaggerated” and describes the ICC as part of a “western plot” against him.

Last week, Ivory Coast’s government decided not to transfer former first lady Simone Gbagbo to join her husband in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the 2010 presidential election, and said it would try her at home.

Rwanda’s ambassador to the African Union, Joseph Nsengimana, observed: “It is not only the case of Kenya. We have seen international justice become more and more a political matter.”

'Complex African issues'
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni accused the ICC of continually "mishandling complex African issues".

Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the AU chairman, told the UN General Assembly last week: “The manner in which the ICC has been operating has left a very bad impression in Africa. It is totally unacceptable.”

South African president Jacob Zuma said it was the impression that the ICC was being "unreasonable" – that led directly to the Addis Ababa summit on October 13th.

There is just one item on the summit agenda: “Africa’s relationship with the ICC”. Countries that support the court and its work, notably Botswana, are likely to do so again. Those who oppose it are hoping it will be “a game-changer”, most immediately perhaps in the case against Mr Kenyatta.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court