President Uhuru Kenyatta
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The African Union (AU) is in the process of expanding the mandate of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (AfCHPR) to try international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, according to decisions taken here Saturday by the AU Assembly.
Following intense discussion at their one-day extraordinary session that was devoted to Africa’s relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC), the African heads of state and government reiterated their “unflinching commitment to fight impunity, promote human rights and democracy, and the rule of law and good governance on the continent”.
The session was specifically called to consider ICC’s move to try Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Rutto on charges related to the 2007 post-election violence in the East African country.
A statement issued at the end of the session said the AU has decided to set up a contact group of the Executive Council to undertake consultations with the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), in particular, its five permanent members, with a view to engaging with the UNSC on all concerns of the AU on its relationship with the ICC.
These concerns include the deferral of cases against Kenyan and Sudanese leaders.
The AU wants a feedback on these cases before the expected beginning of the trial of the Kenyan President at the ICC.
AU Chairperson and Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, said: “If the request does not get a response, the heads of state agreed to request postponement of the trial.”
In the mean time, the Assembly agreed that Kenya should, in conformity with Article 16 of the Rome Statute, request the UNSC for the deferral of the proceedings against Kenyatta and Rutto.
Kenya’s letter to the UNSC would be endorsed by all African State parties to the Rome Statute.
Reaffirming the principles of national law and international customary law, by which sitting heads of state and government and other senior state officials are granted immunities during their tenure of office, the Assembly decided that, “No charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court or tribunal against any serving head of state or government or anybody acting in such capacity during his/her term of office.”
In order to safeguard the constitutional order, stability and integrity of member states, they emphasised that “no serving AU head of state or government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such a capacity, shall be required to appear before any international court or tribunal during their term of office.”
The Assembly underscored that the indictment of Kenya’s national leaders could undermine the country’s sovereignty, stability, and peace.
“While recognising the critical role Kenya is playing in the fight against terrorism, the Assembly noted that the proceedings against the President and his Deputy will distract and prevent them from fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities, including national and regional security affairs,” the statement said.
Hailemarian told the summit: “Our goal is not and should not be a crusade against the ICC, but a solemn call for the organisation to take Africa’s concerns seriously.”