African Union accuses International Criminal Court of racial bias
Bloc calls for transfer of criminal case against Kenyan leaders; rights groups express unease
The African Union has accused the International Criminal Court of targeting Africans on the basis of race, and is demanding that it end proceedings against Kenya's president, who is facing charges of crimes against humanity.
"African leaders have come to a consensus that the [ICC] process that has been conducted in Africa has a flaw," said AU chair and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured) on Monday at the close of a two-day summit of the 54-member bloc.
"The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity … but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting."
On Monday the AU passed a resolution urging the ICC to stop upcoming trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto, who face crimes against humanity trials for their alleged roles in orchestrating deadly violence after a 2007 election that left more than 1,000 people dead. The AU wants their cases transferred to Kenyan courts.
Many African leaders, as well as the AU as a body, have said the ICC unfairly targets Africans but ignores war crimes suspects in other parts of the world.
The Hague-based court, set up in 2002 to try genocide and war crimes, has maintained it was not targeting Africa as a continent, pointing out that four out of eight cases under investigation in Africa were referred to it by the countries themselves.
In addition, it added, 34 African nations had ratified the ICC's founding statute.
ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said the court "will not be reacting" to the AU resolution.
The resolution has no legal impact on ICC proceedings, but significantly boosts Kenyatta's standing on the continent.
The two Kenyan cases were moved to the ICC after a domestic court failed to make headway with them, but the AU argued that reforms in Kenya - including a new constitution and revamped judiciary - meant they should now return to the domestic legal system.
"Now that Kenya has reformed its court … things should be left to the court," AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.
It is the first time the pan-African body has formally moved against the court, even though Kenyatta is the second African leader to face trial following a genocide case against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The ICC resolution was adopted by consensus, with only Botswana and The Gambia expressing "reservations" about the move, AU security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said.
It has sparked criticism from rights groups, with Amnesty International calling it a "worrying attempt by the Kenyan authorities to avoid justice".