The head of the 54-member African Union has said Kenya cannot afford distractions from The Hague. AU leaders are meeting in Ethiopia to discuss the perceived neocolonial biases of the International Criminal Court.
Disillusionment has grown within Africa over the International Criminal Court (ICC). At a two-day extraordinary session of the AU, leaders of several nations 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 security situation in Kenya remains fragile," said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairwoman of the AU Commission, referring to a recent terrorist attack at a Nairobi shopping mall. "We should therefore not allow Kenya to slide back for any reason ... This requires the undivided attention of its leadership."
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 pull-out from the court, which some countries have demanded, could seriously damage the institution.
'The entire Africa'
The ICC charged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto with crimes against humanity after postelection violence in late 2007 and early 2008 led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of 600,000. Ruto's trial opened in The Hague on September 10, and Uhuru's trial is set to commence on November 12.
The leaders called for a postponement, arguing that their country takes precedence, especially in the wake of a terrorist attack on a shopping mall in the capital, Nairobi that left at least 67 dead. It would appear that many in Africa agree.
"This is not just about Kenya, but definitely about the entire Africa," said Ethiopian Prime Minister and AU Chairman Hailemariam Desalegn. "Our goal is not and should not be a crusade against ICC but a solemn call for the organization to take Africa's concerns seriously," he added. "It is very unfortunate that the court has continued to operate in complete disregard of the concerns that we have expressed."
The ICC has issued indictments over conflicts in nine countries, all in Africa. AU diplomats say that the court - an independent body and not part of the United Nations system - has turned a blind eye to other parts of the world. The ICC has convicted only one man: an African warlord.
Some, however, see the benefit of an independent international body. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from Ghana, said a pull-out would give Africa a "badge of shame."
In an opinion article, anti-apartheid icon and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu 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.
AU officials have said they would suggest a permanent consultative body to work with the UN Security Council on concerns regarding the ICC.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)