African leaders have said the November trial of Kenya’s president at the International Criminal Court should be delayed, and that if it was not, he should not attend.
An African Union summit on Saturday called on the UN Security Council to defer the trial under article 16 of the court’s Rome Statute, which allows for a delay of a year subject to renewal.
“If that is not met, what the summit decided is that President (Uhuru) Kenyatta should not appear until the request we have made is actually answered,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told journalists in Addis Ababa.
We have agreed that no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court or tribunal against any serving head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity during his or her term of office.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
The summit was called to discuss Africa’s relations with the court, which has provoked mounting frustration among Africans who accuse it of unfairly targeting people on the continent and largely ignoring crimes elsewhere in the world.
Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have been accused of orchestrating a killing spree after a disputed 2007 election, charges they deny. Kenyatta’s trial starts on November 12, while Ruto’s began last month.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Addis Ababa, said it was a damning statement against the ICC from the AU and that, while it did not have any legal significance, it was a strong political statement.
“Its political meaning will be evident on Monday when President Kenyatta’s deputy William Ruto is due back in the Hague,” Webb said. “If he doesn’t turn up then that will be a significant step and a stand against the court.”
‘Culture of impunity’
The African Union stance challenges the Hague-based court in its most high-profile case to date – its first trial of a sitting president.
Until now, both Kenyan leaders have said they would cooperate to clear their names and both have attended hearings.
“We would like our concerns to be heard loud and clear,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose country chairs the African Union, told the closing session.
“We have agreed that no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court or tribunal against any serving head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity during his or her term of office.”
Ministers did not call for a mass walk-out from the court’s jurisdiction, after officials previously said such a proposal would be on the summit agenda. The idea did not win broad support among Africa’s 34 signatories to the court’s statutes.
Rights groups had urged African nations not to turn their backs on the court, which they say is vital to ending what they see as a culture of impunity in African politics.