analysisBy James Bullock
The African Union's demands signal its increasingly frayed relationship with the International Criminal Court.
On Saturday 12 October, an African Union (AU) summit unanimously agreed to a resolution that no sitting African president should be tried in international courts while in office. At the meeting, which was specially-arranged to discuss the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the continent, the AU also called on the ICC to postpone the trial of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta. If the Court failed to do so, the AU agreed that Kenyatta ought to refuse to attend.
Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto are facing charges for crimes against humanity carried out in the post-election violence in 2007-8. As a signatory to the Rome Statute, the two politicians are required to attend, and Ruto has already appeared at hearings in the court in The Hague.
Kenyatta has repeatedly called for his trial to be delayed and the AU's ruling adds another layer of complexity to events. (However, it significant that despite the weekend's events, Ruto turned up at court yesterday.)
These decisions by the AU are the latest signs of the fraying relationship between the two organisations. With two African presidents - President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Kenyatta - facing charges at The Hague, and with all 20 cases currently before the ICC relating to events in Africa, leaders on the continent have long argued that the Court is biased against Africa.
Although most of those cases were initiated at the request of African governments or are supported by them, this charge was repeated once again at the summit.
"The unfair treatment that we have been subjected to by the ICC is completely unacceptable," said Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the current AU chairman, adding that the recent moves "clearly reflected our [the AU's] disappointment as far as Africa's relationship with the ICC is concerned".
However, the AU summit didn't go so far as to call for a mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute, an idea which had allegedly been mooted by some.
Rumours that such a dramatic move could be in the offing grew in volume as the summit approached, but the idea didn't generate enough support at the meeting to be passed, with reports suggesting that countries were roughly divided between Angolphone and Francophone nations.
On one side, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe as well as Algeria, which is not a member of the ICC, allegedly called for the AU to leave the Rome Statute. Many of the leaders from these countries have been particularly outspoken against the ICC with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for example, recently saying that "selective justice has eroded the credibility of the ICC on the African continent", and Kenyatta telling the summit "The ICC has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime".
However, on the other side, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, the Gambia (the country from which the ICC's Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda hails), Mali, Senegal and Botswana are believed to have voted against such an action.
"Our ears will be open, but we are resolute in terms of standing by the principles of the International Criminal Court", said Jeff Ramsey, Botswana's information minister, in the lead up to the summit. "Of course, there are going to be discussions about the ICC at the summit, but withdrawal will be an extreme step."
In rejecting the proposal at the summit, many countries also drew particular attention to the AU's past failures at addressing conflicts on the continent, and warned that leaving the Rome Statue could allow for further impunity. Details are still being uncovered as to the rest of the attending members' votes.
The AU has now issued its demands to the ICC with the condition that they be met by 12 November, the date Kenyatta's trial is slated to commence. Should the AU not be satisfied with the ICC's response, it will reconvene to discuss the issue further.
According to reports, a UN Security Council resolution, supported by France and the UK, is currently being drafted to postpone the ICC prosecution of Kenyatta. The resolution is intended to avoid a break-down between the ICC and AU.