October 12, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese foreign minister, Ali Karti, has blamed the absence of certain nations from an African Union (AU) summit that took place in Ethiopia, for the failure to call for a mass withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
- Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (L) speaks with cabinet secretary for foreign affairs Amina Mohammed (R) and attorney-general Githu Mungai (2-R) at the African Union’s special summit on the ICC (ELIAS ASMARE/AFP/Getty Images)
African leaders debated the continent’s future relations with the court during the two-day meeting which convened on Friday.
Participants included Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who have both been indicted by the ICC.
Unlike Bashir, the Kenyan president along with his deputy William Ruto have so far committed to cooperating with The Hague-based court which charged them with crimes against humanity in connection with 2007-2008 post-elections violence.
After Ruto and Kenyatta ascended to the presidency in elections held earlier this year, they lobbied their African peers to support their appeal to have the case against them deferred or dropped.
Their calls drew sympathy from within the continent, with some countries accusing the court of bias and specifically targeting Africans.
The ICC has opened investigations into eight cases, all of which are in Africa including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), Darfur, Kenya, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.
Five of the eight cases were referred voluntarily by the African governments in question; two through a UNSC resolution supported by all but one African member in the council at the time and the Kenyan case was opened at the ICC prosecutor’s request.
The ICC intervened after the Kenyan parliament shot down several attempts to establish a local tribunal in accordance with a power-sharing agreement brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
The ICC’s decision also followed calls from a number of MPs, who said they wanted the cases investigated at The Hague.
MASS WITHDRAWAL REJECTED
Nonetheless, Kenya along with Uganda pushed the AU for a summit to discuss the continent’s relations with the ICC, with African officials initially saying that an en masse withdrawal of African countries from the ICC would be on the agenda.
However, the proposal appeared to garner little support aside from Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The last three are not signatories to the court.
The meeting ended up calling on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to defer the trials of Bashir and Kenyatta under Article 16 of the court’s Rome Statute which allows for a delay of up to one-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 was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The African leaders also declared that no sitting African head of state should come before any international court or tribunal.
“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 said.
Davis Malombe, deputy executive director of Kenya Human Rights Commission, rejected the idea of a deferral.
“The AU’s call for a deferral of the cases against Kenya’s president and deputy president is nothing more than another attempt to derail and delay justice for Kenya’s victims and betrays the AU’s purported commitment to fight impunity”, Malombe said.
“Victims have waited for over six years for justice. The UN Security Council has turned down two previous requests and it should do so again if such a request is presented before it”, he added.
KENYATTA BLASTS ICC
According to AFP, Kenyatta blasted the ICC , saying it has been “reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims”.
“It stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers”, he said in prepared remarks, accusing the ICC of “bias and race-hunting”.
“It is the fact that this court performs on the cue of European and American governments against the sovereignty of African states”, Kenyatta said, urging the AU to unite in the face of a “divide and rule” policy.
“Africa is not a third-rate territory of second-class people. We are not a project, or experiment of outsiders”, he added.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese foreign minister said that the meeting had drawn strong support for a withdrawal from the ICC including from his own government. However, he added that while some countries expressed a readiness to pull out, they believed the time was not ripe for such a move.
He said that calls for a withdrawal had almost succeeded but would require further steps, disclosing that this may become a real possibility for African ICC members if the UNSC does not respond positively to the AU’s request for a deferral.
Karti further disclosed that unspecified states at Friday’s ministerial meeting had adopted stances that “generally weakened” the African position.
“But in my overall assessment, the meetings affirmed previous positions on not dealing with the International Criminal Court regarding any head of state”, Karti said.
According to Sudan’s official news agency (SUNA), Ethiopia’s prime minister hailed Bashir, saying he has demonstrated leadership in resolving the Darfur crisis and outstanding issues with Juba.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday said that African states today “reinforced the importance of the ICC when they didn’t bite on possible withdrawal”.
“At the same time, calls for immunity to be granted to high level officials run counter to justice for victims. No one should be above the law when it comes to the gravest crimes”, said HRW associate international justice director Elise Keppler.
RIGHTS GROUPS CONDEMN MEETING
This week, hundreds of rights groups and NGO’s inside and outside Africa criticised the AU meeting, saying it aims to provide cover for leaders who commit crimes by floating the idea of mass withdrawal.
“Five African states asked the ICC to investigate crimes committed in their countries – Côte d’Ivoire , Uganda, Central African Republic, Mali, and Democratic Republic of Congo”, said Georges Kapiamba, president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice. “These states have particular authority and responsibility to dispel claims that the ICC is targeting Africa”.
“This year Nigeria and Ghana both acknowledged the ICC as a crucial court of last resort, and are thus well placed to play a positive leadership role at the summit”, said Chinonye Obiagwu, national coordinator at Nigeria’s Legal Defence and Assistance Project. “They should actively push back against unprincipled attacks on the court and support the ICC’s ability to operate without interference, including in Kenya”, he added.
The UK-based Amnesty International (AI) said that a resolution calling for withdrawal “would be reactionary in the extreme”.
“Such a resolution would serve no purpose except to shield from justice, and to give succour to, people suspected of committing some of the worst crimes known to humanity”, said Tawanda Hondora, AI’s deputy director of law and policy.
African officials have denied accusations that the summit was about encouraging impunity.
“Demanding respect is the least Africa can do, but I also don’t like to see this mistaken for - as we have seen with some of the detractors of this exercise - that Africans are supporting impunity. We don’t”, Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, told Reuters.
AU executive council head Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, a former anti-apartheid activist, acknowledged that African nations should “do more to strengthen the capacity of our national and continental judicial systems”, according to AFP.
A number of African figures, including Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called on African nations to reject the withdrawal bid.
“While some African leaders play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear. Far from being a so-called white man’s witch hunt, the ICC could not be more African if it tried. More than 20 African countries helped to found the ICC. Of the 108 nations that initially joined the ICC, 30 are in Africa. Five of the court’s 18 judges are African, as is its vice president, Sanji Mmasenono Monageng of Botswana. The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has huge power over which cases are brought forward, is from Gambia. The ICC is very clearly an African court”, Tutu wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times.