International court postpones Kenyan president's trial

Reuters

* Kenyatta's trial start delayed to Feb. 5 from Nov. 12

* Diplomats: deferral of cases by Security Council unlikely

* Ethiopia minister says Africa group to table resolution

By Thomas Escritt and Michelle Nichols

THE HAGUE/UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 (Reuters) - TheInternational Criminal Court delayed Kenyan President UhuruKenyatta's trial for crimes against humanity by three months onThursday, while African ministers made an impassioned plea forthe U.N. Security Council to defer the case for one year.

The decision of the Hague-based court to postpone the startof Kenyatta's trial to Feb. 5 from Nov. 12 was announced as adelegation of African Union ministers met informally with the15-member Security Council in New York.

Defence lawyers last week asked for the original start dateof Nov. 12 to be dropped, saying Kenyatta needed time to dealwith the aftermath of last month's Westgate shopping centreattack.

Prosecutors, pressed for time as they attempt to replacewitnesses who withdrew in the run-up to the trial, did notcontest the defence's request for a postponement in a courtsubmission made on Wednesday.

"The Chamber deeply regrets that repeated adjournments ofthe trial have been necessary because one or both parties haverequired more time to prepare," judges wrote in their decisionto grant a third successive postponement to Kenyatta's trial.

Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, face charges relatedto the violence after Kenya's 2007 elections, in which 1,200people died. Both deny the charges and have tried to have thecases adjourned or halted. Ruto's trial started last month.

The African Union officially asked the Security Council lastweek to defer the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto for a year so theycan deal with the aftermath of the Nairobi mall attack by alQaeda-linked group al Shabaab, which killed at least 67 people.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus - wholed a group of ministers from Uganda, Senegal, Mauritania,Namibia and Kenya to meet the Security Council - said thecourt's delay to the start of Kenyatta's trial was not enough.

"To really distract a leader, a sitting leader, in the nameof a trial could actually have consequences," Ghebreyesus toldreporters after meeting with Security Council ambassadors. "Thewhole region is very volatile so they don't have the luxury ofreally not leading their country properly."

DEFERRAL UNLIKELY, SAY DIPLOMATS

The Security Council can defer International Criminal Court proceedings for one year under Article 16 of the Rome Statutethat established The Hague-based court a decade ago. The councilwould need to adopt a resolution to take that step.

Ghebreyesus said African Security Council members - Rwanda,Togo and Morocco - "will put forward a resolution" to authorizethe deferrals. Diplomats said the larger African group of U.N.states would decide when to table the resolution.

But council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 15 members remain split over the issue and anyresolution on deferring the cases was unlikely to be approved.

U.N. council diplomats have noted that the Security councilhad turned down a deferral request in 2011 because a consensuscould not be reached and rejected a request in May for the casesto be terminated because the council had no such power.

"We're asking for a deferral because this is a seriousthreat to international peace and security," said Ghebreyesus."We should prevent any havoc from happening in Kenya because wedon't need another destabilised country."

The cases have stirred an increasing backlash against theInternational Criminal Court from some African governments,which regard it as a tool of Western powers. Ghebreyesus saidthe African ministers also told the Security Council that theydon't believe their "requests are not given serious attention."

"We told them to take Africa seriously," he said. "By askingfor a deferral we're not supporting impunity."

The African Union also plans to raise its issues with thecourt at a November meeting of the Assembly of State Parties,which is made up of the 122 members of the court.

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