News / Africa

Kenya and Sudan in the Spotlight as ICC Conference Opens in Uganda

The International Criminal Court conference opened in the Ugandan capital Kampala, with delegates preparing to discuss the Hague court's future, and proposed changes to its founding treaty, the Rome Statute. But, Kenya and Sudan are making sure their agendas will also be at the forefront of the discussions.

The Kenyan delegation arrived in Kampala for the ICC review conference with the nation's coalition government divided over whether to ask the International Criminal Court to defer its investigation into the country's post-election violence.

Analysts say the two sides of the coalition are at loggerheads on the issue, with President Mwai Kibaki's PNU Party wanting a deferral and Prime Minister Ralia Odinga's side calling for the go-ahead.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has begun his investigations into the Kenyan violence, in which more than 1,300 people died in 2008.

Nairobi political analyst and lawyer Ojwang Agina told VOA the disagreements on whether or not the investigation should take place are deep rooted in the Kenyan government.

"This is a historical divide that divides those who are for impunity and are against any changes in the system, and those who want historical injustices addressed and new legislation put in place to cater for punishment of such infractions of the law," said Agina.

It is not the first time that elements of the Kenyan government have been accused of trying to disrupt the ICC probe, which has broad support among the country's public.

Ocampo requested permission to proceed with his own investigation in November 2009 after more than a year of international pressure on the Kenyan government to establish a national tribunal to prosecute offenders. After he was granted permission in March this year, the chief prosecutor announced he would go after those at the very highest level of involvement in the crimes, thought to include politicians and prominent public figures.

The situation in Kenya highlights what some experts say is a deteriorating relationship between the Hague court and certain African states. The ICC's investigations since its inception eight years ago have led to accusations the court is unfairly targeting African countries.

Sudan's war in Darfur was the first case to be referred to the ICC by the United Nations in 2005. The indictment of President Omar al Bashir on genocide charges drew criticism from various African governments, both separately, and collectively as the African Union.

Sudan has barred three human-rights campaigners from leaving the country to attend the conference. The campaigners say their passports were confiscated Saturday at Khartoum airport as they attempted to board a flight to Uganda.

Critics say the move is typical of a government accused of clamping down on political freedom in the run up to last month's presidential elections, which saw Mr. Bashir sweep back to power amid opposition boycotts and accusations of vote rigging.

Oiwang Agina says the view that the ICC is unfairly biased, has been orchestrated by regimes that are either under investigation or are likely to be in the near future.

"In most of these situations, people both at national level and outside are not happy with what is going on," continued Agina. "It is not the ICC, it is the actions of these particular groups that are bringing the ICC to Africa to look for them."

The Rome Statute is the ICC's governing treaty, adopted in 1998 in an effort to prevent and punish crimes against humanity. The conference will also address the court's role in crimes of aggression, when states engage in conflict that violates the U.N. charter.

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