ICC summit debates Africa issues

Nov 20, 2013, 10:19 AM EST
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court's annual summit of member states was debating on Wednesday the court's vexed relationship with Africa, which is under severe strain because of the prosecutions of Kenya's president and his deputy.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto is on trial for allegedly fomenting violence in the aftermath of his country's 2007 elections, and President Uhuru Kenyatta is due to go on trial in February on similar charges. Both men insist they are innocent.

The cases are progressing despite efforts by the African Union to halt them. Last week, the U.N. Security Council rejected a resolution calling for the Kenya cases to be deferred by a year.

The African Union argues that the trials of Ruto and Kenyatta should be delayed because Kenya needs its leaders to help fight al-Shabab terrorists in neighboring Somalia and at home.

Delegates agreed Wednesday to hold a special session Thursday proposed by the African Union on the indictment of sitting heads of state and its effect on peace and security, but Tina Intelmann, the president of the court's 122-nation Assembly of States Parties, said she did not expect the session to produce any changes in the court's founding principles

She also underscored that the court's founding treaty — the Rome Statute — rules out immunity from prosecution for heads of state.

"The Rome Statute says very clearly: Nobody is above the law," she told reporters. "Now in the present circumstances, some countries say, 'But we have a situation — these people need to govern the country.' What do you do? We say, 'Let's discuss.'"

Rights activists also said the court should not make exceptions for heads of state.

"Giving immunity to sitting leaders would create perverse incentives for them to hold onto power," said Elizabeth Evenson, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.

The assembly of the states that are members of the court also was discussing possible amendments to the court's rules of procedure and evidence that would allow defendants to be present at a trial using video conferencing and let sitting heads of state waive their right to be present at a trial — possibly allowing Kenyatta to stay at home for his.

It was not immediately clear if the proposed changes would be put to a vote.

It was also not clear whether such changes would have a major effect; Judges in Ruto's trial already have allowed him to remain home in Kenya during parts of his trial to conduct state business.

Some African nations also have harshly criticized the court for only indicting Africans. All eight of the cases it is prosecuting are in Africa.

Intelmann acknowledged the strained relations with Africa, but said the court cannot please everybody all of the time.

"We have to be mindful that it is a criminal court," she said. "By definition the criminal court is not able to have only friends."