African leaders stand behind Kenyatta

An African Union summit called on the UN Security Council to defer the trial.

Map of Africa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

ADDIS ABABA - The trial of Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court in November should be delayed and if it's not, he should not attend, African leaders said on Saturday.

An African Union summit called on the UN Security Council to defer the trial under article 16 of the court's Rome Statute, which allows for a delay of a year subject to renewal.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said "If that is not met, what the summit decided is that President Kenyatta should not appear until the request we have made is actually answered."

The summit was called to discuss Africa's relations with the court, which has provoked mounting frustration among Africans who accuse it of unfairly targeting people on the continent and largely ignoring crimes elsewhere in the world.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have been accused of orchestrating a killing spree after a disputed 2007 election, charges they deny.

Kenyatta's trial starts on 12 November, while Ruto's began last month.

The African Union stance challenges the Hague-based court in its most high-profile case to date, its first trial of a sitting president.

Until now, both Kenyan leaders have said they would cooperate to clear their names and both have attended hearings.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose country chairs the African Union, said "We would like our concerns to be heard loud and clear."

Africans say the court has 'double standards', pointing out that it has till now only convicted one man, an African warlord, and has only charged Africans.

Hailemariam said "We have agreed 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 or entitled to act in such capacity during his or her term of office."

Such a rule would also exempt Ruto, who is required to stand in on behalf of Kenyatta when he is out of the country.

Ministers did not call for a mass walkout from the court's jurisdiction, after officials previously said such a proposal would be on the summit agenda.

The idea did not win broad support among Africa's 34 signatories to the court's statutes.

Rights groups had urged African nations not to turn their backs on the court, which they say is vital to ending what they see as a culture of impunity in African politics.