African Union urges ICC to defer Uhuru Kenyatta case
The African Union summit in Ethiopia has demanded a deferral of The Hague trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, due to start in November.
It also agreed a resolution stating no sitting African head of state should appear before an international court.
With both Kenyan and Sudanese presidents facing ICC cases, African leaders have long complained that the court unfairly targets them.
The AU had discussed withdrawing from the ICC, but failed to get support.
Senior figures including Kofi Annan have criticised plans to quit the ICC.
When I asked people in Kenya last month what they thought about their president going to The Hague many didn't know how to answer, saying simply that it was a strange situation.
It is indeed - and people can be forgiven for not knowing quite how to react. And now it has just become more complicated.
Although Mr Kenyatta has always said he will co-operate with the court, this AU ultimatum definitely gives him political wriggle-room.
If he is to resist going to The Hague until the end of his presidential term, what will people feel if he wants to stand again and campaigns for a second mandate on a nationalist card of non-attendance at the ICC?
And another complication: the Kenyan constitution says he is immune from national courts but has to follow the edicts of international ones.
This whole affair is breaking new ground; expect more confusion in Kenyan hearts.
The AU leaders, meeting in Addis Ababa, agreed to back immunity for any sitting African head of state.
They also asked Kenya to write to the UN Security Council seeking a deferral in the International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.
Both he and his deputy, William Ruto, deny charges of organising violence after the 2007 election.
While Mr Ruto went on trial in September, President Kenyatta has repeatedly requested his trial - due next month - be postponed.
Addressing the summit, Mr Kenyatta accused the court of bias and "race-hunting", AFP reports.
"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."
Ethiopian Prime Minister and AU chairman Hailemariam Dessalegn said the summit was not a crusade against the ICC but a call for the court to address Africa's concerns seriously.
He said the ICC's cases against the Sudanese and Kenyan presidents could hamper peace and reconciliation efforts in their countries.
ICC in brief
- Set up in 2002 in The Hague
- Deals with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes
- Court statute ratified by 122 countries, including 34 in Africa
- Chief Prosecutor is Gambian Fatou Bensouda (pictured)
- DR Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga is the only person to be convicted so far
- Investigating cases in Uganda, DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Mali and Ivory Coast
Source: ICC website
"The unfair treatment that we have been subjected to by the ICC is completely unacceptable," he said.
The ICC issued a warrant in 2009 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in the Darfur region, but he has not yet been arrested.
The ICC relies on the authorities of national governments to hand over suspects, but Mr Bashir has avoided arrest despite travelling to countries that have signed up to the ICC statute.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is the current chairman of the AU's Executive Council, said the ICC had failed to respond to the African Union's previous complaints.
"What the summit decided is that President Kenyatta should not appear until the request we have made is actually answered," he said.
Thirty-four of the AU's 54 members have signed up to the ICC.
Kenya's parliament has already passed a motion for the country to withdraw.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that withdrawing from the court would be a "badge of shame".
Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also voiced his support for the ICC.
"Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence," he wrote in an article carried by several newspapers.
"They simply vilify the institution as racist and unjust, as Hermann Goering and his fellow Nazi defendants vilified the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II."
All eight of the cases currently open at the ICC are in Africa but it is also investigating possible cases elsewhere.