opinionBy Nzau Musau
THE African Union is set to discuss a possible mass pull-out from the ICC ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta's November trial.
Yesterday's developments at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa came as the court went in closed session as the first witness against Uhuru's deputy William Ruto continued with her testimony. Both Uhuru and Ruto are charged with crimes against humanity perpetrated on Kenyans in the post election violence of 2007/2008.
According to an AU official who spoke to Reuters, a meeting will be held on October 13 where a common stand will be taken on whether the other 33 AU members to the ICC will follow Kenya's motion to quit the ICC.
At the same forum, the AU may pass a resolution requiring Uhuru not to attend the trial. Uhuru has in the past insisted that he will attend the trial.
"An extraordinary summit will now take place to discuss the issue. A complete walk-out of signatories (to the Rome Statute) is certainly a possibility, but other requests may be made. The summit would be preceded by a meeting of African foreign ministers a day earlier," an AU official quoted by Reuters said.
The unnamed official admitted that the "Kenyans have been criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause."
On Wednesday, Kenya's foreign affairs secretary Amina Mohammed told BBC that the ICC trials on Kenya leaders were annoying. She said the president and the deputy president should not be there in the first place.
Uhuru's spokesman Manoah Esipisu denied the country had canvassed for the summit, but "welcomed the opportunity by African leaders to discuss what is obviously an important matter for the continent".
"There is a belief shared by the Kenyans and African states that the leaders appearing in the trials risks destabilizing the country," an AU diplomat who intimated the summit may ask Uhuru not to attend trial said.
The October 13 summit will not be the first attempt by the AU to torpedo the ICC process in Kenya. In May, the AU backed a request by Kenya for the trials to be referred back to Kenya, on the ground that the ICC hearings risked raising ethnic tensions and destabilizing its economy.
It has also been AU's position that Kenya is an important player in regional peace.
Officials from some of the AU's biggest member states, told Reuters their governments had no plans so far to leave the ICC.
"We are far from that sort of position. There is a big if," said South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela when asked if there were plans for a walk-out.
Nurudeen Muhammed, Nigeria's minister of state of foreign affairs, said the continent's leading oil-producer had no "grudge against the ICC".
"Kenya ... has its own reasons because the country's president and vice president were both indicted by ICC," he told Reuters in an interview.
Zambia's foreign affairs minister, Wylbur Simusa, said Lusaka would want to study the issue more thoroughly before commenting, adding "as for now we still remain part of the ICC."
Ruto's trial began last week. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of crimes against humanity and the first witness against him has taken the stand.
Yesterday, the presiding judge in the Ruto case Chile Eboe-Osuji said the prosecution's request to hold the rest of sessions in camera with the first witness were justified.
"An attempt was made to reveal identity of witness 536, a protected witness. That resulted in interruption of evidence yesterday," Osuji said while reading the decision.
The order took immediate effect and the court retreated to a private session. The decision caught Kenyans attending the trial at the Hague off-guard.
MPs opposed to the order planned a public demonstration but shelved the idea after they were advised against it.
Earlier, Ruto's lawyer Karim Khan opposed the application saying all testimony should be made in public. He said the witness was already under the ICC and would be psychologically prepared accordingly.
Quoting media reports, Khan said the woman who had been identified as the witness in social media had come out in public to deny she is the witness. He insisted Ruto wanted a public hearing so that he can expose witnesses who have been coached to lie against him.
"Mr Khan, we are not there yet. We are talking about this particular witness," Eboe-Osuji repeatedly informed Khan.
But Khan persisted in saying the truth about the lies of the witnesses "cannot be hidden within these four walls." He said the family of Ruto had traveled from Kenya and they deserved to observe the process from the gallery.
"Everyone has a right to hear some of the lies against Ruto," he said. Khan said the previous existing measures of distorting witness voice and visuals and hiding her identity was enough. He said in camera sessions would prejudice Ruto.
Katwa Kigen for Ruto's co-accused Joshua Sang made similar arguments in opposing the move.
The victims' lawyer Wilfred Nderitu only registered his concern that the psychological well being of the witness will depend on the kind of protective measures offered.