UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kenya is asking the U.N. Security Council to delay the International Criminal Court trials of its two top leaders for crimes against humanity for a year, citing the terrorist threat in east Africa.
Kenyan opposition to the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have gained traction since last month's deadly terror attack by militants on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall, which underscored the country's strategic importance in eastern Africa.
The ICC has charged Kenyatta and Ruto with crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people. Both deny the charges.
Kenya's U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau said in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press that the Security Council should take into account threats to peace or an act of aggression "likely to transpire in light of the prevailing and continuing terrorist threat existing in the Horn of and eastern Africa."
Kamau said the council should also take into account the need to prevent "an aggravation" to peace and security in Kenya and neighboring countries.
A delay would provide time for Kenya to consult the International Criminal Court "to consider how best to respond to the threat to international peace and security in the context of the Kenya situation," the ambassador said.
"Kenya therefore seeks action of the United Nations Security Council to prevent the aggravation of the threat, breach of peace or act of aggression that the terrorism menace poses to national, regional, continental and international peace and security," Kamau said.
Kamau's letter was accompanied by a letter from the African Union's member states supporting a deferral for the Kenyan leaders.
The AU urged the Security Council to "positively" consider their request and expressed regret that previous requests "were not acted upon."
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private, said that when a Kenyan deferral was discussed by the 15 council members in May, eight were opposed and seven were more sympathetic.
The Kenyans hope they have more support today, following the Westgate mall attack in which at least 67 people were killed by Islamic extremists, but several diplomats said they doubt there will be a major shift in the council.
For Kenya to get a deferral, the council would have to pass a resolution which requires a minimum of nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France.
"The council previously rejected this bid for impunity because there's no basis to stop the case," Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, told AP. "For the victims, for the witnesses at serious risk and for the dangerous precedent that could be sent, we expect the council to again reject Kenya's request for a deferral."
Dicker was highly critical of Kenya's leader.
"As candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta pledged cooperation with the ICC, but now as president he wants the Security Council to give him an out," Dicker said.
Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chairman of the AU's executive council, is expected to arrive in New York this weekend with about half a dozen high-level officials to put the case for deferral to Security Council members, the diplomat said.
The delegation is expected to meet individually with some council members and may hold an informal session with the entire council on Oct. 31, the diplomat said.
The International Criminal Court, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, is an independent body, but the Rome Statute that created it gave the U.N. Security Council two roles — it can refer cases to the court, and it can defer an investigation or a prosecution for a year.