May 27, 2013 5:57 pm

AU chief accuses International Criminal Court of chasing Africans

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Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn©Reuters

Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn

The African Union assembly chairman has accused the International Criminal Court of pursuing cases against Africans on the basis of their race, in the latest high-profile rebuke of a court that has been dogged by accusations that it is ineffective.

Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also prime minister of Ethiopia, said the ICC had “degenerated into some kind of racehunting”. “I think the ICC has to see to it that it shouldn’t chase Africans,” said Mr Hailemariam at the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. “Out of those people who [have] been indicted by ICC, 99 per cent are Africans so this shows that something is flawed within the system of ICC and we reject that,” he said.

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, is from Gambia and many senior ICC officials are African. The ICC has previously dismissed claims of racism, by pointing to the fact that the referrals come from Africans themselves. The acquittal last year of a Congolese warlord raised doubts about the court’s ability to prosecute cases of crimes against humanity.

Mr Hailemariam’s comments come just days after the African Union backed a Kenyan request for charges against Uhuru Kenyatta, its president, to be heard under the laws of the east African country, not in The Hague.

Mr Kenyatta and William Ruto, his deputy, are indicted for crimes against humanity for their alleged role in brutal ethnic violence that followed elections five years ago. The attacks killed more than 1,100 and displaced close to 700,000. The new president and his deputy argue their election following March polls this year shows they have widespread support, pitting democracy against justice.

In 2007 Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, who are members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups respectively, campaigned on opposite sides but came together in a 2013 election pact detractors labelled “a coalition of the accused”.

“If you take the example in Kenya the indictment has come because of the clashes between the two tribes the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu but these two clans they came together and . . . 100 per cent almost elected the two president and the vice-president,” said Mr Hailemariam. “[So] . . . then the chasing [by] the ICC of these presidents is not clear to the African leaders.”

However, the violence targeted several other ethnic groups including Luo and Luhya, and many were killed by police.

Ramtane Lamamra, the AU’s peace and security commissioner, said the request to refer the high-profile Kenya cases was “discussed and strongly supported at the level of heads of state and government”. Some delegates said that they supported the Kenyan request purely for reasons of regional diplomacy. The ICC has no legal obligation to heed the AU’s request.

Mr Lamamra described as unfair the fact that the three of the five UN Security Council members who regularly refer cases to the ICC have not themselves ratified the Treaty of Rome that established the court, a reference to Russia, China and the US.

“For the ICC I think to continue to enjoy [support] among the large segment of the AU membership I think they have to listen to this legitimate criticism, the same for the UN Security Council,” he said.

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