The African Union (AU) called Feb. 1 for African countries to "speak with one voice" against the trials of sitting heads of state in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The statement comes in relation to the trial of two current heads of the Kenyan government, Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto. The AU asked the UN Security Council to postpone the trials while the Kenyan leaders were still in power, but the resolution failed to get the required nine votes, making it the first resolution in decades to fail without a veto from one of the permanent members.
Further, the statement emphasized the need for a united AU position for the proposed amendments to Articles 16 and 27 of the Rome Statute (PDF) which governs the ICC's jurisdiction. According to reports, only Botswana is opposed to the current AU position. The amendments will be considered by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute during upcoming sessions. [Amendment of Article 16 will give the UN General Assembly power to defer cases if the Security Council fails to do so, while amending Article 27 will secure leaders immunity from the ICC while in office. (The Star, Nairobi, Jan. 31)]
The AU's position has sparked much controversy and criticism. In October Amnesty International (AI) spoke out against the AU's stance, calling it an attempt at "political interference in independent judicial proceedings." The initial declaration was given just days before as part of a protest against the trials of the Kenyan leaders, which have caused their own set of controversies. Kenya's National Assembly voted in September to withdraw from the ICC and is expected to take action to this end soon. In July the ICC rejected a request by Kenyan officials to change the forum of the trials to Kenya or Tanzania. In May, African foreign ministers requested that Kenyatta and Ruto be tried in Kenya.
From Jurist, Feb. 1. Used with permission.
The ICC also has an outstanding warrant for Sudan's President Omar Bashir.