The chairman of the African Union says the continental body will not allow a sitting head of state to be prosecuted by an international tribunal – a clear reference to the trial that is about to begin at the International Criminal Court against Kenya’s leader Uhuru Kenyatta, who is accused of crimes against humanity.
Ethiopian Prime Minister and Chairman of the Union,Hailemariam Desalegn said at the close of the summit Saturday that the AU had taken the decision during a heads of state meeting. He said: “We have agreed no charge shall be commenced, or continued, before any international court or tribunal against any serving head of state or government or anybody acting. … during his or her term in office.”
The AU’s resolution comes as the ICC prosecutor on Saturday revealed new evidence against Kenyatta.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (left), who is facing ICC charges of orchestrating a killing spree, speaks to ministers at an African Union meeting. Photograph: Elias Asmare/AFP/Getty Images
The African Union has called for cases against sitting leaders in the international criminal court (ICC) to be deferred until the politicians leave office.
Foreign ministers in the 54-member African Union called for the cases of the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto, to be delayed amid claims that the court unfairly targets African countries.
A proposal for African nations to withdraw from the ICC – which has been criticised by the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan – did not gain support at a summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“Sitting heads of state and government should not be prosecuted while in office. We have resolved to speak with one voice to make sure that our concerns are heard loud and clear,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian foreign minister, said. He said the AU would ask for the trials of the Kenyan president and his deputy as well as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, to be deferred.
The two Kenyan politicians deny charges that they orchestrated a killing spree after a disputed 2007 election.
Frustration with the ICC has been growing in Africa because the court has convicted only one man, an African warlord, and all others it has charged are also Africans.
“It is indeed very unfortunate that the court has continued to operate in complete disregard of the concerns that we have expressed,” the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said.
Ministers called for the use of video links in the Kenyan trials to ensure leaders could carry on their official duties.
The court has yet to rule on whether Kenyatta and Ruto can be excused from large parts of their trials or whether they can participate by a video link. Proceedings, though not trials, against the two were under way before their election victory in March this year.
Tedros said the ICC was “condescending” towards the continent.
“The court has transformed itself into a political instrument targeting Africa and Africans. This unfair and unjust treatment is totally unacceptable,” he said.
Kofi Annan has said withdrawing from the court would be a “badge of shame” while Archbishop Desmond Tutu voiced support for the court.
Amnesty International urged African nations meeting in the Ethiopian capital not to cut ties with the court, saying victims of crimes deserved justice.
“The ICC should expand its work outside Africa, but it does not mean that its eight current investigations in African countries are without basis,” Amnesty’s deputy director of law and policy, Tawanda Hondora, said.
The Kenyan foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said she was satisfied with the outcome of Friday’s talks, adding that immunity for a sitting president was “a principle that has existed for a long time” in international law.
Lawyers for Kenyatta asked on Thursday that his trial on charges of crimes against humanity be abandoned, saying defence witnesses had been intimidated