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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been under fire for over a week now as Kenyan leaders have once again initiated petition against it at the African Union Summit concluded Monday in Addis Ababa fully backing Kenya’s positions.
The issue was one of the thorny issues African leaders looked into during their two-day summit on May 26 -27, after a joyful celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now AU, the previous day.
ICC has charged at least seven Africans including Uhuru Kenyatta and Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, presidents of Kenya and Sudan, respectively, making them the only leaders to face such charges while in office.
The AU-ICC showdown started over two years ago when the now 54 states grouping, rejected arrest warrant against Bashir and requested the Security Council’s backing for its deferment.
In January 2011, Kenyan authorities have embarked on continental campaign against ICC’s move over a case in its territory, and it has succeeded in securing the full backing of AU members.
The move followed a unanimous decision by the Kenyan Parliament in December 2010 stating that their country should pull out of the Rome Statute – the founding treaty of the ICC signed by 111 countries, 33 of which are Africans, as of October 2009. The incident was feared to provoke a number African countries to withdraw threatening ICC’s authorities in Africa.
The clash between the Kenyan MPs and the ICC was over claims of 2007 poll violence in which 1,200 people were killed and over 500,000 fled their homes. ICC alleges the conflict in East Africa’s most stable country was orchestrated by six Kenyan officials including the current president and his deputy, William Ruto.
Last week, the Kenyans have once again brought the issue to the Executive Council meeting of the AU, which adopted a resolution fully backing Kenya’s request for ICC to refer the case back to Kenyan judiciary. African leaders on Monday accepted their foreign ministers decisions and bombarded ICC for targeting Africans.
“The African leaders came to a consensus that the ICC process that has been conducted in Africa has a flaw. The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race-hunting rather than the fight against impunity,” said Hailemariam Desalgen, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and current Chairman of the African Union, at a press conference after the conclusion of the Union’s 21s assembly.
Speaking earlier on Monday at a closed session of the summit, some African leaders said ICC’s act against elected Kenyan leaders is tantamount to violating its sovereignty. Africa and the AU should not allow a violation of the sovereignty of a member country whose public have just showed their confidence on their leaders and systems. Hence, the AU should send a clear message to the ICC that this is not tolerated.
“Kenya’s request has strongly been supported at the level of heads state,” AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ramtane Lamamara, told journalists. “…it’s not for the court of the north to try leaders in the south.”
Lamamra also dismissed reports that African countries were divided over the matter.
The second issue the African leaders dealt with has to do the future of Western Sahara, political impase that has been lingering for as long as the ages of the AU.
Mostly still under Morocco despite the Polisario Front’s proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – a government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria recognized by upto 80 countries mainly from Africa and Asia – the former Spanish colony stirred disagreement between the OAU and Morocco when the Pan-African organization granted membership leading to Morocco’s withdrawal from the organization in 1984. Now, with the call from some African leaders for Morocco’s return to the organization, the lingering issue of Western Sahara, considered under occupation by some, seems to have gathered momentum.
“Western Sahara is a founding member of the AU….The position of the AU is for the people of Sahara to decide whether on independence or integration with the kingdom of Morocco,” Lamamra said. It’s not a new position. It has always been the same position and we are still pushing for self determination.”
According to him, if the referendum takes place and the people of Western Sahara “say freely what they want to become, I think that will be consistent with the AU and UN doctrines on matters relating to decolonization”.
“The support for the legitimate cause of the Sahrawi people for referendum of self-determination has been expressed and reiterated,” repeatedly throughout the summit, he said.
“Africa is very much united, indeed. Africa is pursuing justice, pursuing the normal implementation of both doctrines, of the AU and the UN…relating to decolonization,” Lamamra concluded.