, UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 – The UN Security Council on Friday rejected an African demand to suspend the International Criminal Court crimes against humanity trials of Kenya’s top two leaders, sparking a diplomatic storm.
Some African nations reacted with fury to the rebuff, while Security Council members were angered by accusations by Kenya and its allies that they had humiliated the continent.
An African resolution called on the council to use its special powers to defer the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto for one year.
The two are accused of fomenting political unrest after a 2007 election in which more than 1,100 people died.
But the resolution got only seven votes, two below the number needed to pass in the 15-member body.
Eight council nations, all ICC members or supporters including Britain, France and the United States, abstained to ensure the failure of the bid.
The draft resolution said the court case is “distracting and preventing” Kenyatta and Ruto from carrying out their duties.
It took up African Union complaints that the two should be left to handle Kenya’s role in battling Islamist militants in Somalia and the aftermath of September’s mall attack in Nairobi, which left 67 dead.
African leaders frequently complain that the ICC discriminates against their continent.
China and Russia gave strong backing to the resolution.
ICC member states acknowledge that Kenya is a special case, but say Kenyatta and Ruto must be judged on their legal merits.
Western diplomats and activists see the campaign to halt the proceedings as political and, more generally by countries opposed to the ICC, to discredit the court.
“Reason and the law have been thrown out the window. Fear and distrust has been allowed to prevail. Africa is disappointed and we regret this very much,” Kenyan UN Ambassador Macharia Kamau said after the vote.
He blasted what he called the “paranoid” fear of some nations that other leaders could use the deferral as a precedent to delay any proceedings against them.
Rwanda, a temporary member of the Security Council, played a key role in drawing up the resolution. Its UN envoy, Eugene Richard Gasana, said the council had “failed” Kenya and Africa by rejecting the resolution.
But the African nations who put forward the measure also faced strong criticism for the way it was portrayed as a vote for or against Africa.
Guatemalan UN Ambassador Gert Rosenthal called the tactic “offensive” and highlighted how Security Council countries had provided peacekeeping troops to Africa and backed efforts to boost justice on the continent.
“In our view, the voting was detrimental for the African Union, which perceives that its proposal was rejected; for the International Criminal Court, whose aspiration of universal membership is under assault, and for the Security Council, which presents itself… divided,” Rosenthal said.
French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said the vote risked sparking an “unnecessary confrontation” between the African Union and the Security Council.
Britain’s UN envoy Mark Lyall Grant, meanwhile, said the resolution was “unnecessarily” put to a vote.
The United States, Britain and France said Africa’s complaints should be put to a meeting of the ICC member countries due to start in The Hague on Wednesday.
The meeting is to consider changes in procedure — such as allowing defendants to appear by video conference — which could ease the conditions for the trials of the Kenyan leaders.
“We believe that justice for the victims of that violence is critical to the country’s long term peace and security,” said US UN envoy Samantha Power, whose country is not an ICC member but strongly supports its work.
Ruto’s trial has started, while that of Kenyatta is scheduled to get underway February 5 after being delayed three times.
“Kenya’s leadership wants theses cases squashed, but that would rob the victims of horrific crimes of any hope of redress,” said Richard Dicker, international justice specialist for Human Rights Watch.
“One wonders whether the governments which pushed the resolution did so in a bid to ward off the possibility of their own officials being prosecuted for crimes in the future,” he added.