THE HAGUE • The African Union (AU) blasted the world's only permanent war crimes court yesterday for its unrelenting focus on the continent, as it called for a case against Kenya's deputy president to be dropped.
"We have arrived at the conclusion that the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose establishment was strongly supported by Africa... is no longer a court for all," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
He was speaking on behalf of the AU at the 14th session of the Assembly of States Parties, an annual meeting between the 123 countries that have signed up to the Hague-based ICC's founding statute.
The AU, led in particular by Kenya, has accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans for prosecution as the majority of its cases come from the continent.
These included a failed case to try Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and a faltering case against his deputy William Ruto for allegedly masterminding deadly post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-2008 in which some 1,200 people died.
9 'situations' before the ICC from Africa
Twenty-three cases from nine "situations" have been brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the court's website.
All nine situations are from Africa. To date, four so-called states parties in the ICC - Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali - have referred situations occurring in their territories to the court, its website said.
In addition, the Security Council has referred two "situations" from non-states parties. One was in Darfur, Sudan, and the other in Libya.
The ICC prosecutor has opened and is conducting investigations on all these situations after analysing available information. In one situation on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there were six cases before the ICC.
In the case involving Congolese warlord Germain Katanga, he has been found guilty of one count of crime against humanity and four counts of war crimes, including attacking a civilian population, the ICC website said.
Katanga was sentenced to 12 years' jail last year, with the time he already spent in detention at the ICC deducted from the sentence.
Meanwhile, the ICC's office of the prosecutor said it is currently conducting preliminary examinations in a number of situations including in Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine and Ukraine.
The ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropped crimes against humanity charges against Mr Kenyatta in December last year in a case littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.
It was her biggest setback since the establishment of the court in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kenya now wants the assembly to debate an amendment which has allowed the prosecutor to use previously recorded testimonies, which were later recanted, to beef up the case against Mr Ruto.
"We believe the trial chamber judges acted outside of their authority in agreeing (with the prosecutor) to admit recanted evidence in this ongoing case," Kenya's Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said.
"These cases should have been handled on a domestic and regional level."
Both Kenya and South Africa - which is embroiled in a spat with the court for failing to arrest Sudan's wanted leader Omar al-Bashir when he travelled to Johannesburg for an AU summit in June - have threatened to withdraw from the court.
Mr Ghebreyesus in his speech did not go as far, but he warned: "Our common resolve (in Africa) should not be tested.
"The continent may be left with no other choice than to reserve the right to take measures it may think necessary in the interest of preserving and safeguarding the stability, dignity, sovereignty and integrity of the continent."
Ms Bensouda told AFP in an interview that there was "no political will" in Kenya to try the cases.
The AU's criticism "does not match the reality... It is a blanket criticism", she said.
Despite all the cases so far at the trial stage being from Africa, Ms Bensouda said: "All the cases that we have, except Kenya, Sudan and Libya, all those cases were at the request of African states asking for the ICC's intervention."
The al-Bashir case is now before a South African court, while ICC judges have given Pretoria more time to explain its failure to arrest him.
African states form the largest bloc at the ICC assembly, with 34 countries, followed by South America with 27.