African Leaders Set to Back Return of Kenyan ICC Cases

African leaders are likely to back a Kenyan proposal that the International Criminal Court refer its cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto back to the East African nation, African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said.

Heads of state gathered in Addis Ababa yesterday for an African Union summit that marks the continental body’s 50th anniversary. African foreign ministers who met this month in the Ethiopian capital agreed to a request to “terminate the case at the level of the ICC and to rely on the national judiciary that is being reformed,” Lamamra said in an interview on May 25.

“I assume the heads of states will reinforce what the ministers have been doing,” he said. The decision of the heads of states will be announced today.

Kenyatta, 51, is the second sitting president, after Sudan’s Umar al-Bashir, to face trial at the Hague-based ICC. The Kenyan leader and Ruto, 46, are accused of organizing and financing militias to carry out murders after a disputed 2007 presidential election sparked ethnic and political violence in which more than 1,100 people died. The two men, who came to power following a vote in March, say they will fight for their innocence at the court.

A peace accord that ended the violence in 2008 promised a new constitution. Among the key aims of the charter was to strengthen the judiciary’s independence from the executive to build trust in its authority. Since the constitution’s enactment in August 2010, the country has appointed a new chief justice, established a Supreme Court and undergone a process of vetting its judges.

‘Stronger’ Judiciary

ICC principles state that cases should be heard domestically, which is possible now because Kenya’s new legal system is “much stronger and more independent,” Lamamra said.

A “majority” of African nations believe the court is biased against the continent’s leaders, Sudanese Foreign Minister Nyial Deng Nyial said in an interview May 25 in Addis Ababa. All of the seven cases currently before the ICC are against Africans, according to its website. Thirty-four African nations are members of The Hague-based court.

The situation is “very hard” for Senegal as it’s a member of the ICC and the African Union and supports both, President Macky Sall said in an interview. “But we are African and we have absolute obligation to follow the African position.”

Kenya’s successful election demonstrates its legal and political system is capable of hearing the cases, said Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom in an interview at the summit yesterday.

“If they’ve done the most sensitive part, the political process, the democratization, then we should trust them and give them the responsibility to do it themselves,” he said.

The summit of leaders will also discuss plans to strengthen their role in ending conflicts on the continent, Lamamra said. Heads of states from the 54-member bloc will explore interim measures to “establish an African capacity for immediate response to crises,” he said.

‘Rapid Response’

The interventions may include the creation of a rapid-response force until an African Standby Force to stabilize crisis-hit countries is deployed as early as 2015, he said.

“We’ll do everything to operationalize the African Standby Force by 2015, but we cannot ensure that all the obstacles will be surmounted and it will effectively happen,” Lamamra said. “In the meantime, we the commission believe we need a tool for immediate response to crisis.”

African nations will still need foreign assistance as security operations are financially “very demanding”, Tedros said.

“The force could be 100 percent from us but we still will need logistics support from the international community,” he said.

Current conflicts on the continent include Nigeria’s battle against Islamist militants. President Goodluck Jonathan imposed emergency rule in three northeastern Nigerian states on May 14 and began a ground and air offensive against Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Shariah law in Africa’s biggest oil-producing nation.

In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting flared has flared for the first time in six months between members of the M23 rebel group and government soldiers. The UN is stationing an intervention brigade there to support a peacekeeping mission.

French Intervention

French military forces intervened earlier this year to fight Islamist rebels in Mali, part of a region awash with weapons and armed groups after the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The United Nations Security Council on April 25 authorized the deployment to Mali of 11,200 peace-keepers and a separate French unit to end the threat of the insurgents.

The African Union “formally” expressed discontent with the details of that UN operation, which will take over from a mission organized by West African states on July 1, Lamamra said.

“More and more the traditional peacekeeping operation involving interposition, cease-fire observation is not relevant in most conflict situations in Africa,” said Lamamra, an Algerian. “And it’s more and more obvious to everybody that you can’t negotiate cease-fire agreements with transnational organized crime groups,” mercenaries and terrorists. “Therefore what you need is enforcement, robust missions” that are well-equipped and mobile, he said.

The AU summit, which ends today, marks half a century since the formation of the Organization of African Unity. The OAU was disbanded and succeeded by the AU in 2002. The bloc is striving to achieve greater unity among member states, promote peace and raise living standards.

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