African Union summit opens in Addis Ababa with fireworks directed at ICC

132131915_11nThe African Union special summit opened in Addis Ababa today with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister directing a tirade against the International Criminal Court.

According to Minister Tedros Adhanom, the court’s handling of African cases leaves much to be desired. He said “Far from promoting justice and reconciliation…the court has transformed itself into a political instrument.”

Many African leaders have criticised the Hague based court for summoning two sitting Presidents to answer for crimes against humanity. The complaints reached a new pitch after President Kenyatta and his vice were both summoned.

According to the critics, summoning both Kenyatta and his vice will have a negative effect on their ability to govern properly. Fears that terrorists will take advantage of the absence of the leaders to destabilise the country gained ground after last month’s attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

The Ethiopian Foreign Minister described the International Criminal Court’s treatment of African cases as “unfair and unjust.”

There had been rumours that this special AU meeting in Addis Ababa is geared toward generating support for a mass withdrawal from the ICC. However, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Amina Mohamed, refuted these claims. According to her “It is naive to think that 34 countries would come together to withdraw from the Rome Statute.” Despite this comment, many believe discussions of the ICC’s supposed mishandling of African cases will achieve this end.

Currently, African nations make up about one-third of the ICC’s membership and a mass pull out will have a negative effect on the overall credibility of the court.

Last month’s vote by Kenya’s parliament to remove Kenya from the ICC’s jurisdiction may be a harbinger of what is to come. However, that vote will not have an effect on the cases currently before the ICC relating to the 2007/08 election violence.

The ICC is the first international court to trial persons for crimes against humanity, and understandably the court has faced numerous challenges since it was created.

But not everyone agrees with the move to pull out of the ICC. Numerous political figures in the continent have spoken against the call for African nations to pull of the international court.

Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan believes the continent will wear a”badge of shame” if leaders go ahead with the idea of pulling out of the court.

On the other hand, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary said contrary to being a badge of shame on the continent. In her perspective, pulling out of the ICC would prove that the continent is capable of handling its own affairs.

Today, Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu expressed his opinion on this issue. He compared the move to leave the ICC with the Nazi’s attempt to evade justice. According to him, African leaders want to remove their countries from the jurisdiction of the court in order to hide their crimes and corrupt practices.

This contentious topic has the potential to split the AU between countries who support the move and countries that don’t. Already countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sudan are seen as a unit advocating for a separation of the AU from the ICC.

More information is expected on this issue when the heads of states join their foreign ministers at the conference tomorrow.

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