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Kenyans Angry Over US Pressure to Sign ICC Agreement

Angry Kenyans are urging their government not to sign an agreement with the United States that would require Kenya to get permission from the U.S. government before surrendering U.S. war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court.

Kenyan member of parliament Paul Muite tells VOA he and his government do not need the yearly $10 million military aid package that the U.S. government threatened to withhold from Kenya if the East African country does not sign the agreement.

"First of all, America is being utterly immoral in refusing to sign up [to] the International Criminal Court and to go further and require economically weak countries like Kenya, blackmail them, is really very, very insulting to our sovereignty, to our sense of self-respect," said Mr. Muite. So we are taking the position that that military aid should be suspended - we don't want it."

Under the so-called bilateral non-surrender agreement, Kenya would promise not to surrender any U.S. war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court for possible trial unless the United States government agrees.

The United States would also not surrender a Kenyan citizen to the court without Kenya's permission.

But the East African country is a party to the International Criminal Court and is bound to hand over any wanted suspects.

Mr. Muite says he and "over 90 percent of parliament" plan to pressure the Kenyan government not to sign the agreement, a sentiment echoed by other Kenyans in the local press.

Mr. Muite says Kenya can look to the European Union or China to get the lost military aid.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua says the U.S. government has not officially communicated that it would pull the plug on military aid if the agreement was not signed.

Mr. Mutua says the cabinet has yet to decide whether or not to sign the agreement, and did not specify on which side the government stands.

"It has not yet been fixed on the date that the decision will be made," he said. "We have to look at Kenyan interests first as they pertain to our international relations."

The United States believes that the International Criminal Court is vulnerable to what it calls "exploitation and politically-motivated prosecutions."

U.S. embassy spokesman Richard Mei says the United States has supported many international tribunals such as those for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

But, says Mr. Mei, the International Criminal Court is what he calls "an institution of unchecked power" because the prosecutor is only answerable to the court itself, which could lead to "politicized prosecution."

Mr. Mei denies that the United States is blackmailing Kenya, and not all military assistance to Kenya has been frozen.

"Whether or not Kenya elects to conclude a bilateral non-surrender agreement with the U.S. is entirely a sovereign Kenyan decision and will be respected by the United States," said Mr. Mei. "But we're not forcing anything on Kenya. There's no blackmail."

The United States has signed bilateral non-surrender agreements with 100 countries.

The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, was created under the 1998 Rome Statute, adopted by 120 countries and entering into force in 2002.

The court deals mostly with cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations at the state level, and is meant to assist national criminal jurisdictions.

The court's stated aims are to end impunity and conflicts, deter future war criminals, and to take over when national criminal justice institutions are unwilling or unable to act.