October 13, 2013 (NEW YORK)- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the African Union’s (AU) position on the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying leaders should focus on more pressing problems facing the continent.
During a two-day summit which convened on Friday in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, African leaders resolved that no sitting African head of state should be tried by an international court.
However, calls for an en masse withdrawal of African countries from the ICC failed to win widespread support.
The AU has also resolved that Kenya should write to the UN Security Council (UNSC) asking for a deferral of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial at the ICC.
Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are accused by the ICC of crimes against humanity in relation to their alleged role in 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya in which 1,200 were killed and 600,000 displaced.
Ruto’s trial began in September, while Kenyatta is scheduled to face court in November.
However, the AU has resolved that Kenyatta should not attend the trial until the AU receives a response to its demands.
“What the summit decided is that president Kenyatta should not appear until the request we have made is actually answered”, Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Addis Ababa.
The summit was held as a forum for African leaders to debate the continent’s future relations with the ICC, amid accusations the court is biased and specifically targeting Africans.
Of the eight cases involving Africans, five were referred voluntarily by the African governments in question; two through an UNSC resolution supported by all but one African member in the council at the time, while the Kenyan case was opened at the ICC prosecutor’s request.
Human Rights Watch has criticised the AU’s position, saying African leaders should be discussing more pressing issues such as the conflict in the Central Africa Republic (CAR), Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), human rights violations in Eritrea and the spate of deaths involving African immigrants, who died after their boats capsized off Europe.
“AU leaders concluded that instead of addressing any of the urgent human rights disasters that threaten Africans, displacing millions and forcing tens of thousands to flee abroad, the most urgent issue was to unite their voices to obstruct the work of the International Criminal Court, which has become the last, best hope for many of those Africans who have been victims of atrocities implicating some of these very same leaders”, said Daniel Bekele, the executive director of HRW’s Africa division.
Bekele described the AU’s stance that a sitting head of state should not be tried by the ICC as “repugnant”.
“The notion that sitting heads of state should have immunity for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity is not just appallingly self-serving, it’s repugnant given the kind of disincentive it would create for anyone to leave power, as well as the incentive it creates for the unscrupulous to gain or maintain power at whatever cost - by murder, coup, or fraudulent elections, just to name a few”, he said.
Addressing the summit, Kenyatta blasted the ICC calling it a toy for “declining powers”.
“The ICC 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.
The ICC has yet to make an official comment on the AU’s position, but the court has in the past denied accusations of bias against African leaders.