With Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta under pressure to appear at the International Criminal Court next month to answer charges of crimes against humanity, the African Union (AU) has called a special summit to discuss Africa’s relationship with the court. BBC Africa’s Farouk Chothia reports.
The AU is heavily divided over the ICC, with East African leaders facing strong resistance from their West African counterparts in their campaign to whip up hostility towards the court.
Opposition towards the 11-year-old ICC runs deepest in East Africa – not surprising as two of the region’s presidents – Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta – have been indicted, while Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto is already on trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
“There are strong passions around the issue. The ICC has been on the agenda of every AU summit since Mr Bashir’s indictment,” Steven Gruzd, an analyst with the South African Institute of International Affairs, told the BBC.
“The countries that are most vocal in their opposition to the ICC are in East Africa – Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. West African countries like Nigeria and Ghana are more supportive of the court,” he said.
The AU has called an extraordinary summit, due to take place on Friday and Saturday, in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on the ICC ahead of Mr Kenyatta’s trial next month.
Despite widespread speculation that the summit will consider calling on all 34 African members to pull out of the ICC, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said on Wednesday that it was “quite naive” to think that leaders would “come together with the sole aim” of breaking ties with the court.
Mr Ruto’s and Mr Kenyatta’s trials are unprecedented – they are the first serving leaders to be tried by an international court.
Mr Ruto had to ask for his trial to be adjourned, so he could return home to deal with the recent Westgate shopping centre terror attack. He was given a week’s delay – less than he had requested.
“In advanced countries, sitting presidents are not hauled before courts. It’s for the courts to wait for the president to finish their terms before proceedings can be instituted,” Ms Mohamed told a news conference.
Like Mr Ruto, Mr Kenyatta is accused of organising violence after disputed elections in 2007, leaving some 1,100 people dead and 600,000 homeless.