African leaders have accused The Hague of targeting the continent in prosecutions. A summit comes as tensions mount between the International Criminal Court and the African Union.
Leaders of several nations in the 54-member AU have accused The Hague of singling out Africans, and demanded that the ICC - the world's first permanent court to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - drop proceedings against Kenya's leadership.
"The manner in which the court has been operating, particularly its unfair treatment of Africa and Africans, leaves much to be desired," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chairman of the AU's executive council, told delegates at the opening of a two-day summit called to consider the union's cooperation with The Hague as well as to elect a new peace and security commissioner for the bloc.
"Far from promoting justice and reconciliation ... the court has transformed itself into a political instrument," he added. "This unfair and unjust treatment is totally unacceptable."
African countries account for 34 of the 122 parties to the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty, which took effect on July 1, 2002. A mass pullout from the court, which some countries have demanded, could seriously damage the institution.
'License to kill'
Though countries such as Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda take a tough line against the ICC, other nations seem more reluctant to get embroiled in a diplomatic confrontation. South African anti-apartheid icon and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, for example, fired off a sharply-worded attack that compared ICC opponents to Nazis seeking to evade justice. He also argued that the number of African cases before the court merely reflects on the dismal record of many of the continent's governments.
"Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence," Tutu wrote in an opinion piece carried by several newspapers Friday. "They simply vilify the institution as racist and unjust, as Hermann Göring and his fellow Nazi defendants vilified the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II," he wrote.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who began his career as a Ghanaian diplomat, said a pullout would leave Africa wearing a "badge of shame." A group of 130 African civil society and rights organizations issued a public letter expressing their support for the tribunal.
Kenya on trial
Africans stand trial in all eight cases currently before the ICC. However, the countries themselves have referred four of those cases to The Hague - including those involving Kenya. The ICC has charged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto, as well as former radio boss Joshua Arap Sang, with crimes against humanity linked to post-election violence in 2007-2008 that left at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless.
The trial of Ruto and Sang has already begun, and proceedings against Kenyatta should start on November 12. The accused have so far pledged to cooperate with the court, but tensions have mounted amid accusations of witness intimidation in Kenya and counter-complaints against the ICC that the court's inflexibility has hampered the running of the country. The ICC has rejected the AU's request for postponement of the court's investigation and prosecution of Kenyan leaders suspected of instigating the postelection violence.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed distanced herself from the AU's quitting the ICC as a bloc, though the country's parliament voted last month to withdraw and requested the convening of the current special summit.
"There is this issue out there that Africa is trying to draw out en masse, so we laid everybody's fears to rest and said that is not our intention," she said. "Are we concerned about some of the things that are happening in the court? Yes we are, but we never said we would move out."
mkg/dr (AFP, Reuters, AP)