Kenya has asked other African countries to urge the International Criminal Court (ICC) to drop crimes-against-humanity charges against its new president and his deputy, according to an African Union document seen.
Uhuru Kenyatta became the second sitting African leader facing trial at the war-crimes tribunal when he won an election in March with an absolute majority in a ballot that saw huge voter turnout.
Many African nations signed up to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, but a widespread feeling on the continent that it is targeted by the tribunal has left the court deeply unpopular with many, Reuters reports.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said on Thursday his country would never become a member of the ICC, saying it appeared to be preoccupied with prosecuting African leaders.
The paper submitted to African foreign ministers at an African Union summit in Ethiopia said the ICC trials risked destabilizing Kenya when it was undertaking deep reforms to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence five years ago that killed more than 1,200 people.
Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are accused of masterminding the ethnic bloodshed – charges both deny.
“We request the countries of the African Union and all friendly nations to … urge the ICC to terminate the case or refer it (to Kenya) in view of the changes to Kenya’s judiciary and constitutional framework,” said the paper seen by Reuters.
Kenyatta’s trial is due to begin in July.
Ramtane Lamamra, AU commissioner for peace and security, said that while the continent wanted justice, there was a need to balance this with national reconciliation.
“We’ll reach a solution that will be very close to the document submitted by the region and Kenya,” Lamamra told Reuters. “The termination of the case before the court, that will be the best option … which the parties are working on currently.”
African foreign ministers will submit a proposal to be voted on by heads of state at the summit over the weekend. That, diplomats say, is typically a rubber-stamping exercise.
One foreign minister pointed to a new constitution implemented in Kenya in the wake of the 2007-8 ethnic fighting and a reformed judiciary as reasons to back the proposal.
“We should allow the Kenyan judiciary which is fiercely independent to adjudicate,” said the minister who declined to be identified as the issue was still being debated. “I am confident they can deal with this.”
Another foreign minister said some countries were calling for all African signatories to withdraw their ICC membership.
“But they won’t carry the day,” the minister, who also asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.