President Uhuru Kenyatta talks with Kenyan delegates at the African Union summit on Sunday. The AU announced measures intended to block the ICC's trial of Kenyatta over crimes against humanity. (Image Source: Reuters)
Today, the African Union, which included leaders and ministers from almost all of the African continent, held an extraordinary meeting concerning the fate of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The two leaders, elected earlier in 2013, have been under investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for their role in the mass riots following the 2007 general election. The African Union has been strongly urging the ICC to back off its criminal investigation, on the grounds of soverignty and the idea that the ICC has been targeting its leaders unfairly. While the AU decided against the motion of mass withdrawing from the ICC, their other rulings have suggested one message: That the ICC get out of Africa.
The International Criminal Court was established following the signing of the Rome Treaty in 1998, and has been used in subsequent years for taking on the cases of war criminals in recent decades. They carry the most extensive forms of due process, allowing the war criminals the right to an attorney, and the right to confront witnesses and accusers, and other means. The ICC has primarily targeted figures in small wars such as the Bosnian civil war, the war in Kosovo, and conflicts in Africa, particularly the Congo and Rwanda.
The problem with the ICC, the African Union essentially argues, is that it is particularly targeted by Western powers on grounds of "imperialism," while the world's major and superpowers are left alone either by privilege or by the fact that they either did not sign or ratify the Rome Treaty, and thus are not obligated to send any war criminals. One particular African critic is Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who himself faces charges by the ICC over charges of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan in the late 2000s.
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto face investigation by the ICC over their role in riots that occured after the 2007 election, in which Mwai Kibaki was elected despite claims by challenger Raila Odinga of mass electoral manipulation. Kenyatta in particular is accused of organizing and funding several groups for his tribe, the Kikuyu, that would target other Kenyan tribes, the Luos and Kalenjin, for retaliation. Kenyatta claims that opposition leader Raila Odinga should be held responsible for the riots after calling the election rigged. While Kenyatta has accepted the summons of the ICC to stand trial, the ICC has repeatedly been blocked by the Kenyan government in investigating the riots, and he has wished to postpone his trial.
The African Union passed two motions, one requesting that the ICC delay Uhuru Kenyatta's trial, the other that no sitting head of state in Africa should be forced to appear before an international court, something that will also benefit Omar al-Bashir. The AU claimed that their votes were not about going after the ICC but a call to take Africa's concerns seriously. Still, with investigative efforts being blocked in Ruto's trial, which is already under way, the argument could be made that the Africans want the ICC to stop meddling in their affairs.
In any event, the argument the Africans make of ICC's supposed bias and imperialism makes some sense, given who has not ratified the Rome Treaty. If every member of the United Nations were to ratify the Rome Treaty, the following would be culpable of being charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity: The senior leadership of the Communist Party of China and Workers' Party of Korea; the Saudi and Thai Royal Families (and the latter's supporters); key leaders of the Turkish, Burmese, Egyptian, and Indonesian militaries; the relgious leadership of Iran and backing force the Revolutionary Guards; the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin, as well as President Putin himself; key members of the Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian. Israeli, and Palestinian governments; the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (and their opposition); and, last but not least, members of the current and previous White House administrations in the United States, most significantly Vice President Dick Cheney. That's a lot of important people right there.