AU calls for halt to ICC cases against Kenyan and Sudanese leaders

Reuters

* Kenyatta should not attend November trial, says AU

* Only Africans have ever been prosecuted

* ICC accused of operating "double standards"

By Aaron Maasho and Edmund Blair

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 12 (Reuters) - African leaders called onSaturday for the prosecutions of Kenya's and Sudan's presidentsby the International Criminal Court to be halted, amidcomplaints the body has only ever pursued Africans.

An African Union summit in Addis Ababa was held to discussAfrica's relations with the court, which has convicted just oneman, a Congolese warlord, and has only charged Africans.

It said the U.N. Security Council should defer the trial ofKenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta under article 16 of the court'sRome Statute, which allows for an initial delay of a year, or itwould seek an alternative means of postponement.

"If that is not met, what the summit decided is thatPresident Kenyatta should not appear until the request we havemade is actually answered," Ethiopian Foreign Minister TedrosAdhanom told journalists in Addis Ababa after the meeting.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have been accused oforchestrating large-scale violence after a disputed 2007election, charges they deny. Kenyatta's trial is due to start onNov. 12, while Ruto's began last month.

The African Union stance challenges the Hague-based court inits most high-profile case to date - its first trial of asitting president.

Without an agreed legal delay in court proceedings, anydecision by Kenyatta not to attend could prompt an arrestwarrant, a step Western nations have wanted to avoid as it wouldcomplicate already tricky relations with a regional ally.

Until now, both Kenyans have said they will cooperate toclear their names and both have attended hearings. There was noimmediate comment from the two politicians or their lawyers.

"It's a good outcome," Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamedtold Reuters shortly after the summit closed. "We have beengiven instructions by the AU summit on what we should do next.We will work together with the African Union."

African nations say the court has ignored earlier demandsthat the cases be delayed while the men are in office or movedcloser to home.

DEFIANCE

"We would like our concerns to be heard loud and clear,"Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose countrychairs the African Union, told the closing session.

A group led by the AU chair with representatives fromAfrica's five regions will press the U.N. Security Council todefer proceedings against Kenya's leadership and the Sudanesepresident, Omar Hassan al Bashir, who faces charges of genocide.

Unlike the Kenyan politicians, Bashir has long defied anarrest warrant, deepening his nation's alienation from the West.

"We have agreed that no charges shall be commenced orcontinued before any international court or tribunal against anyserving head of state or government, or anybody acting orentitled to act in such capacity during his or her term ofoffice," Hailemariam said.

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

Africans say the court has "double standards", saying lawsin other nations mean top leaders are immune from prosecution.

However, ministers did not call for a mass walk-out from thecourt's jurisdiction, after officials previously said such aproposal would be on the agenda. The idea did not win broadsupport among Africa's 34 signatories to the court's statutes.

In his opening remarks, the Ethiopian prime minister saidAfrican states were not on a "crusade" against the court.

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

"Calls for immunity of the highest-level officials runcounter to justice for victims," said Elise Keppler of NewYork-based Human Rights Watch. "No one should be above the lawwhen it comes to the gravest crimes."

Sudan, which has not ratified the court statutes, said itwas still pushing for other Africans to quit the organisation.

"What has been decided is good now, but we were working formore than that, like calling for AU member states to pull out ofthe ICC," Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Karti told Reuters,describing The Hague-based body as "a court for activists".

Some Africans, including officials from heavyweights SouthAfrica and Nigeria, had indicated there was no broad backing onthe continent for a walk-out.

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