African Union Summit Backs Return of Kenyan ICC Cases

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By William Davison – May 27, 2013

African leaders backed a Kenyan proposal that the International Criminal Court refer its cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto back to the East African nation, African Union Chairman Hailemariam Desalegn said.

The ICC cases against Kenya’s leaders are a demonstration of the court’s “flawed” process on the continent, Hailemariam, who is also Ethiopia’s prime minister, said at the end of a two-day African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. All of the seven cases currently before the ICC are against Africans, according to its website. Thirty-four African nations are members of The Hague-based court.

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, left, and William Ruto, vice president, are seen in this March 2, 2013 photo in Nairobi. Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Enlarge image

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, left, and William Ruto, vice president, are seen in this March 2, 2013 photo in Nairobi. Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

“The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity, of ill governance and the kind, but now the process has degenerated into some kind of race hunting rather than the objective of taking care of crimes and impunities,” Hailemariam said.

Kenyatta, 51, is the second sitting president along with Sudan’s Umar al-Bashir to face trial at the Hague-based ICC. The Kenyan leader and Ruto, 46, are accused of organizing and financing militias to carry out murders after a disputed 2007 presidential election sparked ethnic and political violence in which more than 1,100 people died. The two men, who came to power following a vote in March, say they will fight to prove their innocence at the court.

ICC principles state that cases should be heard domestically, which is possible now because Kenya’s new legal system is “much stronger and more independent,” AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said.

Kenyan Constitution

Kenya enacted a new constitution in 2010 as part of a peace accord that ended the 2007 post-election violence. Among the key aims of the charter was to strengthen the judiciary’s independence from the executive to build trust in its authority. Since the enactment in August 2010, the country has appointed a new chief justice, established a Supreme Court and undergone a process of vetting its judges.

Kenya’s successful election in March also demonstrates it’s capable of hearing the cases,Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said in an interview at the summit yesterday.

Only Botswana objected to the request for the ICC to transfer the cases, Sudanese Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial said in an interview today.

African leaders also decided to create an “intervening force” to deal with African crises including coup d’etats, Hailemariam said. “Almost all countries have agreed we will have a rapid response capability in Africa,” he said.

Stabilizing Force

The measure is until an African Standby Force to stabilize crisis-hit countries is deployed as early as 2015, Lamamra said. It’s uncertain whether the standby force will be ready in 2015, he said.

South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia volunteered to implement the interim initiative, which will be funded solely by contributing nations, he told reporters today.

African states will still need foreign assistance as security operations are financially “very demanding,” Tedros said. Ethiopian troops fighting al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in neighboring Somalia are funded by Ethiopia’s government.

“The force could be 100 percent from us but we still will need logistics support from the international community,” he said.

Current conflicts on the continent include Nigeria’s battle against Islamist militants. President Goodluck Jonathan imposed emergency rule in three northeastern Nigerian states on May 14 and began a ground and air offensive against Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Shariah law in Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation.

Congo Fighting

In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting has flared for the first time in six months between members of the M23 rebel group and government soldiers. The UN is stationing an intervention brigade there to support a peacekeeping mission.

French military forces intervened earlier this year to fight Islamist rebels in Mali, part of a region awash with weapons and armed groups after the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The United Nations Security Council on April 25 authorized the deployment to Mali of 11,200 peace-keepers and a separate French unit to end the threat of the insurgents. The force was criticized by the AU. The UN should authorize more “robust” missions that can combat aggressors, Lamamra said.

To end reliance on foreign partners that fund the union, leaders decided governments will suggest new financing mechanisms, such as additional national taxes on flights or hotel rooms, Lamamra said.

The decisions on funding and the interim force are “of historic nature and scope,” Lamamra said.

The summit, which ended today, marked half a century since the formation of the Organization of African Unity. The OAU was disbanded and succeeded by the AU in 2002.

“There was no better time than the context of 50th anniversary to take bold decisions that show it’s not business as usual,” Lamamra said. “We mean to do things better, and do things more efficiently and unanimously.”

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson

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