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War crimes court told to back off sitting heads of state

10/24/2013, 11:41 a.m.

Oct. 15 (GIN) – The African Union has given notice to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it should end trials of sitting heads of state and postpone the active trials of the president and deputy president of Kenya, both tied down by the recent Westgate shopping mall terror attack. 

At a summit in Ethiopia this past weekend, African Union members urged the Hague-based court to defer the trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, but they nixed a call for a complete withdrawal from the court.

Addressing the summit, Kenyatta accused the court of bias and “race-hunting.”

Kenyatta and Ruto are accused of instigating and financing deadly violence in a postelection melee in 2007 that cost hundreds of lives and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Critics accused the court of “hunting Africans,” as eight cases were selected from Africa for prosecution out of 139 worldwide. These eight were Uganda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Central African Republic; Darfur, Sudan; the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire; and Mali.

But a growing number of African scholars, elders and civil society activists back the jurisdiction of the court, which steps in when local courts are unable or unwilling to do the job. A withdrawal from the ICC, they say, would enable those who have “killed, maimed and oppressed” to easily do so again.

The court, insists former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, constrains those who act as if “neither the golden rule, nor the rule of law, applies to them.”

“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 a recent New York Times editorial.

“They believe the interests of the people should not stand in the way of their ambitions of wealth and power, and that those who get in their way—the victims, their own people—should remain faceless and voiceless,” he said.

Writing in the online newsletter Pambazuka News, professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University reflected on Africa’s judicial system and its weakness in prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes.

“Far from opposing the ICC,” he wrote, “Africans must strengthen social justice movements in their societies so that it becomes a moot question as to where to put on trial those who orchestrate the deaths of thousands.

“This work must proceed so that by the time Africa is united and the Africans and indigenous peoples democratize Latin America, especially Brazil, there will be a new platform for the enforcement for international law.”