By Aaron Maasho*
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – African leaders will meet in the Ethiopian capital on October 13 to take a common stance on whether to join Kenya’s planned pull-out from the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the prosecution of its leaders, officials said on Thursday.
So far there does not seem to be much support for it, but heads of state from the 54-member African Union (AU) may still discuss the possibility of a pullout by the 34 African signatories to the Rome Statute that created the tribunal.
Last week’s start of the trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto for crimes against humanity – with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial due in November – has fuelled a growing backlash against the Hague-based court from some African governments, which see it as a tool of Western powers.
“The Kenyans have been criss-crossing Africa in search of support for their cause, even before their parliament voted to withdraw from the ICC,” an AU official told Reuters.
“An extraordinary summit will now take place to discuss the issue. A complete walk-out of signatories (to the Rome Statute) is certainly a possibility, but other requests maybe made.”
The summit would be preceded by a meeting of African foreign ministers a day earlier, he said.
Kenya’s spokesman for the presidency Manoah Esipisu said the country had not canvassed for the summit, but “welcomed the opportunity by African leaders to discuss what is obviously an important matter for the continent”.
ICC prosecutors have accused Kenyatta and Ruto, alongside radio journalist Joshua arap Sang, of fomenting ethnic violence that killed about 1,200 people after a disputed election in December 2007. The three suspects deny the charges.
Some neighbours of east Africa’s biggest economy have petitioned the ICC alongside Ruto’s lawyers for him to be excused from attending all ICC hearings.
A diplomat at the African Union said Kenya may ask that Kenyatta and Ruto not to attend the entire trial.
“There is a belief shared by the Kenyans and African states that the leaders appearing in the trials risks destabilising the country,” said the diplomat who declined to be named.
In May, the AU backed a request by Kenya for the trials to be referred back to Kenya, on the ground that the ICC hearings risked raising ethnic tensions and destabilising its economy.
Officials from some of the AU’s biggest member states, told Reuters their governments had no plans so far to leave the ICC.
“We are far from that sort of position. There is a big if,” said South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela when asked if there were plans for a walk-out.
Nurudeen Muhammed, Nigeria’s minister of state of foreign affairs, said the continent’s leading oil-producer had no “grudge against the ICC”.
“Kenya … has its own reasons because the country’s president and vice president were both indicted by ICC,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Zambia’s foreign affairs minister, Wylbur Simusa, said Lusaka would want to study the issue more thoroughly before commenting, adding “as for now we still remain part of the ICC.”