Kenya warns ICC trials could threaten regional security

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 21 Nov 2013

11/21/2013 18:27 GMT

by Jan HENNOP

THE HAGUE, November 21, 2013 (AFP) - Kenya argued on Thursday that putting its top two leaders on trial before the International Criminal Court could compromise security in the often volatile east African region.

The indictments for crimes against humanity against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto "create particular problems in the context of regional peace and security," Kenya's attorney-general Githu Muigai said.

Muigai was speaking on the second day of an annual meeting of the Hague-based ICC's member states, during a session to discuss whether heads of states should be given immunity from prosecution.

"Kenya is the lynchpin in the peace and security of more than 250 million people from Djibouti to the eastern Congo. Kenya is one of the most important pillars in eastern Africa" in the fight against terror, drug trafficking and piracy, Muigai said.

He stressed: "It is not in our humble view a country... the international community should play Russian roulette with."

The United States, Britain and Israel have long had close military and intelligence ties with Nairobi.

Kenya plays a major part in regional military efforts to stamp out Al Qaeda-linked militants who have turned neighbouring Somalia into a major global jihadist hub.

The Shebab group carried out an attack on a Nairobi mall that killed at least 67 people in September in retaliation for Kenya's involvement in Somalia.

The annual meeting in The Hague is turning into a forum for some African countries to vent their frustration with the world's only permanent court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Delegates from the court's 122 member states on Thursday afternoon listened to a special debate on whether the ICC's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, should be changed to say that heads of state cannot be prosecuted while serving in office.

The ICC's Assembly of States Parties (ASP) debate comes at the behest of the African Union which has accused the court of racism because all its current cases involve Africans.

Kenyatta and Ruto are accused of fomenting political unrest in which more than 1,100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced following a disputed 2007 election.

"Africa is worried about the proceedings initiated against sitting heads of states," the AU's legal representative Djeneba Diarra told delegates.

"We believe indictments could pose a threat to stability and democracy in countries such as in Kenya," Diarra warned.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is also wanted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur.

Any changes to the Rome Statute however could not be decided or implemented at the eight-day meeting in The Hague.

Rights groups said Thursday although they welcomed the debate, they believed it was the latest attempt by some African countries to halt Kenyatta and Ruto's trials.

George Kegoro, director of Kenya's International Commission of Jurists said he saw Kenya and the African Union's efforts to amend the ICC's founding document "as the latest attack on the Kenyan trials before the court."

"The circumstances around the proposed amendment constitute an attempt to recreate the ICC in the image of African judiciaries: timid, pliable and always seeking comfort for African leaders," he said.

The meeting will also consider changes in procedure -- such as allowing defendants to appear by video conference -- which could ease trial conditions for the Kenyan leaders.

The ICC has opened eight investigations since it was set up in 2003, all of them in Africa.

The Security Council last week rejected an African draft resolution demanding that Ruto and Kenyatta's ICC trials be suspended for one year.

The proposed resolution said the court case was "distracting and preventing" Kenyatta and Ruto from carrying out their duties and argued that their leadership was crucial in battling Islamist militants and handling the aftermath of the mall attack.

Ruto's trial started on September 10, while Kenyatta's three-times delayed trial is now scheduled to get under way on February 5.

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