, ADDIS ABABA, Oct 9 – African nations are to meet from Friday to debate a possible withdrawal from the International Criminal Court over claims it targets Africa, but that sentiment is being challenged by rights groups across the continent.
The 54-member African Union has accused The Hague based ICC of singling out Africans for prosecution and has specifically demanded that the court drop the proceedings against Kenya’s leadership.
Member states of the court, which was founded primarily to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, are expected to discuss a possible united pull out from the ICC.
The upcoming AU summit has already provoked strong reactions from both sides of the debate.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan this week said Africa would be wearing a “badge of shame” if its leaders voted to leave the world’s first permanent war crimes court.
A group of 130 African organisations have also issued a public letter expressing their steadfast support for the tribunal.
“We believe any withdrawal from the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and reject impunity,” read the letter, which has been hailed by Human Rights Watch.
The special summit starts with ministerial meetings on Friday before heads of state join the debate at the AU’s Addis Ababa headquarters on Saturday.
It takes place amid growing hostility to the ICC trials of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, on charges of crimes against humanity in the post election violence in 2007-2008 that left over a thousand people dead.
Several countries, including Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia, have publicly supported Kenya’s stance against the ICC and the request to transfer the trials to Africa.
But despite criticism from many, a united withdrawal from the court by member states appears unlikely.
“It is difficult to say that the whole membership of Africans will pull out, but it is possible that some countries will because they are tired of the situation,” Rwanda’s ambassador to the AU, Joseph Nsegimana, told AFP.
He claimed the ICC bias against Africa was clear, adding that the court had only shown itself as a mechanism to target African suspects.
“The bias exists because it appears that the ICC is becoming more and more a political tool rather than a justice court,” he said.