By AFP, News24. Photo: AFP
The Hague - The African Union blasted the world's only permanent war crimes court on Wednesday for its unrelenting focus on the continent, as it called for a case against Kenya's deputy president to be dropped.
"We have arrived at the conclusion that the International Criminal Court, whose establishment was strongly supported by Africa... is no longer a court for all," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The Ethiopian minister was speaking on behalf of the AU at the 14th session of the Assembly of States Parties, an annual meeting between the 123 countries that have signed up to the Hague-based ICC's founding statute.
The AU, led in particular by Kenya, has accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans for prosecution as the majority of its cases come from the continent.
This included a failed case to try Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and a faltering case against his deputy William Ruto, for allegedly masterminding deadly post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-2008 in which some 1 200 people died.
The ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropped crimes against humanity charges against Kenyatta in December last year in a case littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.
It was her biggest setback since the establishment of the court in 2002, set up to try the world's worst crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kenya now wants the assembly to debate an amendment which has allowed the prosecutor to use previously-recorded testimonies, which were later recanted, to beef up the case against Ruto.
"We believe the trial chamber judges acted outside of their authority in agreeing [with the prosecutor] to admit recanted evidence in this ongoing case," Kenya's Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said.
"We believe these cases should never in the first place have been brought," Mohamed told AFP on the sidelines of the meeting.
"These cases should have been handled on a domestic and regional level," she said.
'No political will'
Both Kenya and South Africa - which is embroiled in a spat with the court for failing to arrest Sudan's wanted leader Omar al-Bashir when he travelled to Johannesburg for an AU summit in June - have threatened to withdraw from the court.
Ghebreyesus in his speech did not go as far, but he warned: "Our common resolve [in Africa] should not be tested."
"The continent may be left with no other choice than to reserve the right to take measures it may think necessary in the interest of preserving and safeguarding the stability, dignity, sovereignty and integrity of the continent," he said.
Bensouda told AFP in an interview that there was "no political will" in Kenya to try the cases.
The AU's criticism "does not match the reality... It is a blanket criticism," she said.
Despite all the cases so far at the trial stage being from Africa, Bensouda said: "All the cases that we have, except Kenya, Sudan and Libya, all those cases were at the request of African states asking for the ICC's intervention."
Regarding South Africa, she said Pretoria "should have arrested Bashir and surrendered him to the ICC, once he found himself on the territory of South Africa, which is a state party to the Rome statute, part of the ICC, and has treaty obligations under the statute".
But South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told AFP Pretoria "could not arrest Bashir because he was attending an AU summit as an international head of state".
South Africa vigorously maintained that its obligations to the AU, which included granting immunity to attending heads of state, trumped the laws of the ICC.
The case is currently before a South African court, while ICC judges have given Pretoria more time to explain their failure to arrest Bashir.
African states form the largest bloc at the ICC assembly, with 34 countries, followed by South America with 27.