Extraordinary summit in Addis Ababa rejects prosecution of heads-of-state
An extraordinary summit of the 54-member African Union (AU) took place at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on October 11-12. The purpose of the gathering was to continue efforts aimed at compelling the International Criminal Court (ICC) to suspend charges against the currently sitting leaders of Kenya and Sudan.
During its 50th anniversary meeting in May, the AU discussed at length the apparent bias against continental leaders by the Netherlands-based court. Despite objections from the regional body, the ICC continued with its prosecution of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Ruto and Kenyatta are charged with crime against humanity stemming from unrest during the disputed elections of 2007. Both are accused of organizing violence against their political opponents but have said they are innocent of the charges.
Both of these leaders were just elected in an internationally-supervised Kenyan election in March. Kenyatta was not the favored candidate of the United States and Britain who expressed dismay over the future of relations between Kenya and these western states if the elections did not go their way.
Although the summit apparently took seriously the question of the political character of the ICC, a decision for a regional withdrawal was not accepted. Some 34 African states are signatories to the Rome Statute which serves as the legal basis for the ICC.
A number of African states including Sudan and Zimbabwe felt strongly that the AU should pullout of the ICC due to its exclusive pre-occupation with continental leaders.
The Republic of Sudan’s foreign minister, Ali Karti, whose country has been directly targeted by the ICC and other western governments and institutions, observed that there was a sentiment present at the summit that was in favor of withdrawal, but this was a decision that could only be made by the individual states.
Karti noted during closed sessions that certain states took stances which generally weakened the resolve of the AU to come out against involvement with the ICC. Nonetheless, he stressed that “in my overall assessment the meetings affirmed previous positions on not dealing with the International Criminal Court regarding any head of state” the foreign minister said.
An Appeal to the United Nations Security Council
The conclusion reached at the extraordinary summit was to send a delegation to the UN Security Council to demand that the charges by the ICC against Kenyatta and Ruto be suspended and that similar efforts aimed at Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir be discontinued. If this is not successful then another extraordinary summit will be convened in Addis Ababa in November.
AU chairperson, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn, said of the meeting that “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.”
This same demand was echoed by Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom stressing “If that is not met, what the summit decided is that President (Uhuru) Kenyatta should not appear until the request we have made is actually answered.” (Reuters, October 13)
A number of African states have been targeted by the ICC including Ivory Coast, Sudan, Kenya, Libya, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Mali. Some of these investigations have been brought against elected leaders such as Sudan and Kenya while others are being carried out against rebels and former leaders such as ousted President Laurent Gbagbo and first lady Simone who were overthrown by the French military in 2011.
ICC and the Question of ‘Human Rights’
Various western-backed so-called “human rights” organizations have spoken up in support of the ICC with some even condemning the AU for its stance related to national sovereignty and self-determination of independent states. These organizations advance the notion that the ICC serves as a bulwark against political impunity of dictatorial and abusive African leaders and rebel commanders.
These groups stress that there are Africans within the ICC structures and therefore the institution could not be racist in its orientation and practice. Well known public figures such as former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who even urged the AU not to oppose the ICC in its exclusive prosecution of African leaders, has taken a position at variance with the regional continental organization.
“Five African states asked the ICC to investigate crimes committed in their countries – Côte d’Ivoire , Uganda, Central African Republic, Mali, and Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Georges Kapiamba, who is the president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice. “These states have particular authority and responsibility to dispel claims that the ICC is targeting Africa.” (Sudan Tribune, October 13)
“This year Nigeria and Ghana both acknowledged the ICC as a crucial court of last resort, and are thus well placed to play a positive leadership role at the summit,” according to Chinonye Obiagwu, National Coordinator at Nigeria’s Legal Defense and Assistance Project. “They should actively push back against unprincipled attacks on the court and support the ICC’s ability to operate without interference, including in Kenya.” (Sudan Tribune, October 13)
In an op-ed written by Bishop Tutu and published in the New York Times, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner claimed that “While some African leaders play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear. Far from being a so-called white man’s witch hunt, the ICC could not be more African if it tried. More than 20 African countries helped to found the ICC. Of the 108 nations that initially joined the ICC, 30 are in Africa. Five of the court’s 18 judges are African, as is its vice president, Sanji Mmasenono Monageng of Botswana. The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has huge power over which cases are brought forward, is from Gambia. The ICC is very clearly an African court.” (NYT, October 11)
However, what is not taken into consideration by these organizations and religious leaders who are put before the public media as champions of human rights is that even if there are Africans inside this institution, the same culture of prosecutorial impunity is applied against this targeted people as is done when such legal bodies are exclusively European.
Moreover, what is the value of the political will and determination of the African regional bodies which reject this form of externally imposed arbitrary treatment? It appears as if this select group of “human rights” groups and individuals so concerned, feel that the imperatives of this European-based institution takes priority over what is generally agreed upon by Africans in their organized expressions.
Perhaps the most profound question that the putative “human rights” community cannot answer is why does the ICC only focus its attention on Africa when far greater crimes against humanity have been committed by the western imperialist states and their allies without any hint of investigation or efforts aimed at prosecution? In the last two decades millions of people have been killed by and the aegis of the U.S. and its European allies.
The illegal and unjust wars waged against the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Somalia, Colombia, Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other states by imperialism and its agents does not even draw the attention of the ICC or most of these same “human rights” organizations that are so quick to attack the AU.
Going back to previous decades since the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. has been involved in genocidal wars of aggression in South-east Asia, Southern Africa, the Middle East, Cuba and throughout Latin America and the South Pacific that have left millions dead and many more injured and dislocated.
In fact the entire history of the U.S. and Western Europe since the 15th century has been based on slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. All of the wealth and power accumulated by the imperialist states is the direct result of the extermination, exploitation and national oppression of peoples of color and indeed working and poor people even within the western states themselves.
There have not been any reparations paid to the descendants of Africans, Native Americans and peoples of Latin American descent who have borne the brunt of the European ruling class domination over their lives and natural resources. Consequently, what moral basis do these governments and economic interests have in holding African leaders to a far higher standard than they have ever maintained.
Institutions such as the ICC cannot effectively judge Africans due to the contradictions inherent in their practice. These western-based systems are only designed to continue the dependency that Africa has been subjected to for nearly six centuries.
Mr. Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor for the Pan-African News Wire, is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.