UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council refused to delay the International Criminal Court trial of Kenya's president and his deputy on crimes against humanity on Friday, opening a rift with the African Union which lobbied intensively for the yearlong postponement.
The African-sponsored resolution to delay the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto was voted down with seven "yes" votes and eight abstentions — short of the minimum nine "yes" votes needed for approval.
The African Union argued that the trial delay was essential because Kenya needs its leaders to help fight al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia and at home.
Diplomats had predicted for weeks that the resolution would be rejected. Nonetheless, the refusal to defer the trials provoked unusually angry, bitter and emotional outbursts from Rwanda, Kenya and the African Union, who viewed the vote a as a referendum on council support for Africa.
Rwanda, Togo, Morocco, China, Russia, Pakistan and Azerbaijan supported the resolution while the U.S., Britain, France, Guatemala, Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea abstained.
Opponents of a deferral — who abstained because they knew the resolution lacked support — said they didn't believe there was a strong enough case for council interference with the court's operation.
"It will be written today in history that the Security Council failed Kenya and Africa," Rwanda's U.N. Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana told fellow council members. Speaking for the AU, Ethiopia's U.N. Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said opponents of a delay "are wrong — and they have offended Africa" and shown a lack of trust in African leaders.
Kenya's Foreign Ministry accused opponents of a deferral of "cowardice" and said the Security Council "has failed the African continent."
But Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, told AP: "The council did the right thing by not halting these trials, ensuring that victims get their day in court."
"What the Kenyans want, is an end to these cases. Full stop," he said. "They want the cases quashed."
Pressure for a deferral intensified following September's deadly terror attack by militants on a Nairobi mall that killed 67 people, which underscored Kenya's strategic importance.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court charged Kenyatta and Ruto with crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in postelection violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in late 2007 and early 2008.
Kenyatta — who was elected president earlier this year, despite his indictment — insists he is innocent, as does Ruto, whose trial is already underway.
The Security Council is the only body that can grant a one-year deferral in an ICC investigation or trial.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said his country abstained because they did not feel the ICC proceedings constituted "a threat to international peace and security."
Associated Press reporters Peter James Spielmann at the United Nations and Jason Straziuso in Nairobi contributed to this report.