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ICC in Nairobi as Kenya Looks to African Union for Trial Deferment

  • Michael Onyiego

Kenyan protesters hold placards while shouting slogans during a protest in Nairobi, Jan 18 2011

Kenyan protesters hold placards while shouting slogans during a protest in Nairobi, Jan 18 2011

As an African Union summit that could sanction Kenya's non-cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) begins, the international community is bearing down on Kenya as signatories to the Rome Statute arrive to gauge the country's commitment to the court.

The African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is being anxiously watched by observers in Nairobi and The Hague. One of the items on the agenda could be the deferment of Kenya's post-election-chaos trial at the International Criminal Court.

The Kenyan government has been pushing for this shield against the Court, and the past two weeks have seen a sort of African shuttle diplomacy, with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka jetting around the continent to rally support. Musyoka has reportedly secured the blessings of South African President Jacob Zuma, Ugandan Leader Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, all major players in the continental body.

Some politicians in Kenya support the deferral on the grounds that a local trial would better serve the cause of justice, but that stance has been controversial. Prime Minister Raila Odinga recently came out in favor of ICC trials. Kenyan MP and Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Onyonka said local trials would only be possible if certain steps are taken.

"Kenya can have a deferment, but there are things we must do," said Onyonka. "We must put a judiciary which is believable, which is beyond reproach. We must make sure that we start engaging the Security Council to make sure that we explain to them why feel that there is a necessity to have a local tribunal. "

Plans to seek a deferral of the Kenyan case could take shape at the parallel Intergovernmental Authority on Development Summit Sunday. IGAD support would set the stage for African Union approval the following day.

But international criticism is mounting as the meeting nears. The President of the Assembly of States Parties, Christian Wenaweser, came out against Kenya's deferment push, arguing the Court is a critical component in the fight against impunity.

The Assembly of States Parties is the legislative and political body of the ICC. Weneweser is in Kenya on a two-day fact-finding mission that will include meetings with senior government officials and civil society to discuss the country's commitment to the court.

If the African Union agrees to support Kenya, it will submit a written request to the U.N. Security Council to defer the Kenyan case. Under court rules, the Security Council may request a one-year deferment from the court in case of a threat to international peace.

More than 1,000 people were killed and 300,000 displaced after Kenya's disputed presidential elections in December of 2007. Ethnic violence ripped through the country for nearly two months until then-rivals President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga signed a political accord ending the chaos.